by Christopher Labonte
Out2Enroll Steering Committee
Millions of Americans have already enrolled in new health insurance options thanks to health reform, and millions more have the opportunity to do so before the March 31st deadline. With new affordable options, our friends and family members are able to access quality health care, security, and peace of mind, many for the first time. As a result, the Affordable Care Act represents a new era for LGBT health, and now is the best time in history for those of us who are LGBT to get covered.
For many in our community, access to health care might not seem like as much of a priority as, say, marriage equality or employment nondiscrimination. But health is–or at least should be–an LGBT equality issue. Why? Because the LGBT community faces health disparities in areas like obesity, smoking, cancer screening, and HIV. And LGBT people are disproportionately likely to be uninsured and to face barriers to quality health care such as poor treatment by health care providers or inequitable policies and practices in health care facilities.
But, with health reform, many of these barriers have been eliminated. Previously, same-sex couples were often treated unfairly and denied partner coverage. Now, same-sex spouses can apply for financial assistance together in the health insurance marketplaces, regardless of what state they live in.
Before the Affordable Care Act, insurers could refuse to cover people who are transgender, calling it a preexisting condition. Now, every American is guaranteed access to a health insurance plan, regardless of gender identity, and regardless of any preexisting conditions.
The law also includes expansive nondiscrimination protections, which make it illegal for insurance companies or marketplaces to discriminate against LGBT people. And insurers are not allowed to sell health plans with benefits that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Beyond these legal protections, health reform is making insurance affordable to many LGBT people who simply couldn’t afford it. Now, individuals whose income is between $11,490 and $45,960 (or between $23,550 and $94,200 for a family of four) may be eligible for financial help to purchase health insurance through the marketplace. So far, most people who have enrolled in a new plan have qualified for some financial assistance.
Investing in a health plan also provides increased financial security, because it protects you from the unexpected. If you or a family member gets sick, you can focus on the care that you or your loved ones need without having to worry about whether you’re covered or not. Every plan in the marketplace has to cover a minimum set of benefits, known as essential health benefits, which include doctor visits, hospital stays, preventive care, prescription drugs, and mental health services.
Too many LGBT people have been missing out on the care they need because they do not have insurance. Now is the time to change that by taking action to get coverage for ourselves and our families—and helping spread the word to our friends and communities. Shopping for a health insurance plan is easier than ever, with a marketplace in every state that you can browse online, over the phone, or in person. In Texas, you can enroll in health insurance at HealthCare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596. TTY users can call 1-855-889-4325. The marketplace is open until March 31st, the final deadline to get health insurance this year.
Health reform has provided greater opportunity than ever before for LGBT people to get insured and stay healthy. Now is the time to get covered.
If you have questions about enrolling, visit www.out2enroll.org.