A healthier system

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The healthcare reform legislation signed into law last month by President Barack Obama is a big step forward for all Americans, but it is particularly important for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. LGBT people have been disproportionately harmed by the current healthcare system.

Repeated studies have shown that LGBT people are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexuals, regardless of their age, employment status, income or education. That’s largely because the majority of same-sex couples – unlike their married straight counterparts – can’t rely on the employment benefits of their partners to secure affordable coverage.

A 2006 national survey found that 20 percent of people in same-sex couples were uninsured, compared with only 11.5 percent of married individuals. That’s nearly double the rate of uninsured. With the economic downturn that followed the survey, those numbers likely grew worse.

Transgender people, who often lack formal employment due to discrimination, have been even less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance.

Reform will make healthcare far more accessible to the 32 million people in the United States who now lack insurance. It’s estimated that more than 95 percent of U.S. citizens will receive coverage under the new law.

Reform also will prevent insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. For the gay and bisexual men who are living with HIV and for the disproportionate number of lesbians with breast cancer, this could mean the difference between life and death.

In addition, the law contains a provision banning insurance companies from charging women more than men for the same coverage. This practice, known as “gender rating,” is currently widespread.

The reform package is not perfect. We would have preferred a simpler bill offering a government insurance option similar to Medicare. It is outrageous that the legislation contains restrictions on reproductive freedom, fails to include anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people and forces domestic partners to continue paying taxes on benefits offered by employers.

As a community, we must continue to lobby our elected officials to rectify these flaws in the law. But given the bizarre political climate, lawmakers have probably delivered the best legislation possible at this time. It includes much for us to celebrate.