Thursday, February 25, 2010

Obama's health plan excludes LGBTs

Obama's health plan excludes LGBTs
by Lisa Keen
©2010 Keen News Service

President Obama released a new health care reform bill Monday that he says incorporates work done in the House and Senate and adds ideas from Republican members of Congress. But there's no inclusion in this new proposed measure of any of the gay-related provisions in the original House bill.

But it's not all bad news. The president's proposal calls for $11 billion for "the operation, expansion, and construction of community health centers" around the country. And that money could help at least some LGBT and HIV centers around the country.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the openly gay member of Congress who was a leader in adding pro-gay provisions to the House health reform bill, says she hasn't given up hope. She called President Obama's proposal Monday "an important step forward" that "helps to regain our momentum" on health care reform efforts.

But, she added, "it is not the final word."

In fact, it's not even a bill, yet. The president's proposal is a "new starting point," as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs put it during a routine press briefing Monday. Gibbs and other White House spokespersons have been cautious in laying out what they believe will happen next on the proposal. A key turning point, they say, will be a much-publicized summit Thursday between the President, Democratic leaders, and key Republicans.

But prospects for the leaders to agree on at least a draft bill for the Senate and House to take up anew has already been dimmed by statements from Republican leaders who are supposed to be heading into that crucial Feb. 25 meeting.

"The president has crippled the credibility of this week's summit by proposing the same massive government takeover of health care based on a partisan bill the American people have already rejected," said House Minority Leader John Boehner. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Boehner, calling the president's proposal "another partisan, back-room bill."

Prospects for adding back in the pro-gay House provisions are, of course, even worse and have clearly not improved since last December when they failed to make it into the Senate bill. And the Senate bill is where the president's proposal starts.

"The president's proposal assumes the base Senate bill," said Shin Inouye, a spokesman for the White House with LGBT media. But Inouye pointed out that the president's proposal does include "data collection."

The "data collection" mentioned in the House bill called for the establishment of an office of Assistant Secretary for Health Information to promote the collection of data about "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" ( along with a great many other categories ) to help identify health issues and the need for programs. The proposal posted by the White House Monday calls for improved "data collection and analysis, facilitates better data sharing, and requires the development of standards for the collection of data regarding the nation's health and the performance of the nation's health care, including health disparities."

Ronald Johnson, deputy director of the AIDS Action Council, said he is concerned that some aspects of the House bill that were favorable to the LGBT communities will be left out but that the proposal is still "a moving ball."

Johnson and Darrel Cummings, chief of staff for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, said the $11 billion designated for community health center money is a definite plus.

Cummings noted that the Los Angeles center has earned designation as a "Federally Qualified Health Center-Look Alike"—a designation that means it is eligible to receive funding under the Public Health Service Act money for underserved populations but has not yet received any.

"We have been awaiting notice of funding availability for some time now and are very hopeful that this legislation would create the funding necessary for that to happen," explained Cummings.

Most LGBT and HIV activists had supported the House bill because it included key LGBT specific provisions, including provisions. In addition to the data collection, it prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the provision of health care; enabled people with HIV and low incomes to obtain Medicare coverage earlier in the course of their illness; and eliminated the tax that gay employees must pay if their same-sex partners or spouses receive health coverage from their employers' plan. Straight employees don't pay that tax but, for gay couples, the coverage is characterized by the federal government as additional income for the gay employee.

Baldwin said Feb. 22 she would "continue to fight for all of my priorities in the final healthcare-reform bill, including those related to LGBT health."

Baldwin warned last September that there were "many reasons why people in the LGBT community ought to be following the health care reform very closely."

"Our lives are very much going to be affected by this legislation," said Baldwin at the time, in a videotaped message, "and certainly our health is."


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