Feds continue push for equal LGBT health care

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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The number of American hospitals striving to treat LGBT patients equally and respectfully is on the rise, according to a report released on June 19 by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

HRC joined U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., to release the annual survey, along with a report on 2011 accomplishments on LGBT issues at HHS.

“Just a few short years ago the health care industry wasn’t having conversations about LGBT health care equality,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “Now, thanks to advocacy by the LGBT com- munity and some standout leaders, growing numbers of health care providers are making an explicit commitment to treat all patients with dignity and respect. The health care industry is beginning to heed the call for fairness and compassion.”

The HRC report contains the Healthcare Equality Index, an annual review of 407 health care facilities in the United States. More than 90 percent of participants in the survey explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGB patients and 76 percent ban discrimination against transgender patients.

Additionally, about 75 percent of respondents have a written policy explicitly granting equal visitation rights to same sex couples and same-sex parents. This represents a significant increase since 2011, when HHS issued rules requiring all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding – nearly every hospital in America – to protect the visitation rights of LGBT people.

“I commend the LGBT and health care communities for the progress made and I am proud to be part of an administration that has a historic record of accomplishment for the LGBT community,” said Sebelius. “We will continue to take action to ensure that LGBT Americans get equal treatment in health care settings and that all patients are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

Studies, including a 2011 Institute of Medicine report, have shown that the LGBT community faces disparities in health care and many LGBT Americans fear that they’ll experience bias from providers. The report Sebelius released described steps HHS took this past year to improve health care for LGBT people, including continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which has improved access to health coverage and preventive services, such as mammograms and HIV testing, without co-pays or deductibles.

Looking ahead, Sebelius said the ACA would provide more coverage options through an expanded Medicaid program and insurance exchanges, which cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

HHS also relaunched stop-bullying.gov, created an LGBT youth suicide task force and awarded funding to the Fenway Institute in Boston to create national programs promoting sensitive and quality LGBT care.