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Donna Red Wing Headshot

Get Covered: Being LGBT Is No Longer a Pre-Existing Condition

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Imagine any of the following scenarios for a moment.

You are a middle-aged person living with HIV. You used to work for a large company that covered your health insurance, but your company downsized, leaving you without a job or health insurance. A small nonprofit would like to hire you, but without a large staff pool, health insurance coverage there is based on age, gender and pre-existing conditions. In other words, you are almost uninsurable.

Or perhaps you're a woman of a certain age, and it is assumed that you might get pregnant. Your rates are higher simply because you are female.

Or maybe you are among the 24 percent of lesbians and bisexual women, or the 13 percent of gay men, who currently live in poverty. Or maybe you're a transgender person, which means you are four times more likely to have a household income under $10,000, and twice as likely to be unemployed.

Whoever you are, you simply cannot afford health insurance. Period.

These scenarios, among many others, help explain why the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as "Obamacare," is so important for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Under the ACA, more Americans will be eligible for Medicaid, and that includes people living with HIV and AIDS. In addition, all lifetime limits will be eliminated, and insurance companies can no longer "drop" people from their health care plans simply because they are ill or considered "uninsurable."

For decades LGBT individuals have faced discrimination within the health care system. Many studies have shown that LGBT people are affected by chronic disease at a higher rate than other Americans. The ACA has made some significant progress to ensure that LGBT Americans have access to coverage when they need it most, regardless of ongoing health issues.

What this means is that finally, being a woman, a lesbian, a gay man, a bisexual or a transgender person is no longer considered a pre-existing condition. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services is working with community centers serving the LGBT community to employ proven prevention strategies to address concerns regarding tobacco use, HIV-related health disparities, and more.

The Obama administration has been very clear in its outreach to LGBT Americans. The administration understands that, based on a history of exemptions and disregard, we are, at the very least, somewhat skeptical. However, the Out2Enroll program, a collaborative effort set to launch on Oct. 11 to educate the LGBT community about their health care options, is serious about making sure that the LGBT community is aware of, and fully understands, the ACA.

At a recent White House briefing specifically for the LGBT community, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and an impressive group of committee and subcommittee officials offered an overview of the key provisions of the ACA. Never before has our community been included within the health care conversation in such a visionary manner. I believe that the White House has shown an extraordinary commitment to the health and well-being of LGBT individuals. And it's about time.

At the White House briefing, research was shared showing that across the board, LGBT people are less healthy than their heterosexual counterparts, leading them to be underinsured and underemployed. As a result, the ACA can only help us, as it provides coverage to folks who have been exempt from America's world-class health care system for far too long. In addition, counselors will be provided who are culturally competent and familiar with the LGBT community, which means that we can be open and honest about who we are and our health care needs.

President Obama and Secretary Sebelius have extended their vision of equality to include us. It's important to ensure that every LGBT person in this nation has access to affordable health care during the open enrollment period, and that they understand what that includes. It's time to get covered.

To apply for coverage, compare plans and enroll, find the Iowa marketplace at HealthCare.gov.