Don't you wish you could just look up health insurance on Amazon? It'd be easy to see which plans were rated well, then you could read the reviews to see if specific issues you needed were addressed. Of course, when it comes to comparison shopping, health care has long been a black box. Which doctor is best? Which plans cover the most? Can my partner get covered? These questions have all been nearly impossible to answer, until now.
One of the many changes the Affordable Care Act has brought into our world is a move toward more transparency in the health care system. To this end, a new website, Healthcare.gov, has built a series of different tools to help the average person find a doctor, compare hospitals, and compare health insurance plans. It's not quite the 1-to-5-star system, and there's no user feedback yet, but it certainly is a great step forward in making health care less of a guessing game for all of us.
One of the major issues in LGBT health is that we are much more likely to be uninsured than others. In a recent study, researchers found that in California, partnered, male, same-sex couples were less than half as likely to have health insurance as opposite-sex couples. Same-sex female couples had an even smaller chance of being insured, nearer one quarter. Of course, this discrepancy exists because we cannot get married, and to a lesser extent because job discrimination forces some of us into lower-paying positions that are less likely to offer health insurance. But for whatever reason, the truth is that this relative lack of access to health insurance is one of the major reason we experience health disparities. We need to be able to get to a doctor before we can get access to checkups, tobacco cessation services, blood pressure medicine, anything. And this is no small potatoes; it affects hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of LGBT people -- perhaps even you?
So I'm very happy that the federal government has now launched a new tool to help combat this problem. In Healthcare.gov, when you compare insurance plans, one of the "Additional Features" you can now compare is whether they cover same-sex partners (as well as domestic partners).
"Last year, as part of our commitment to work with the LGBT community and be more responsive to the needs of these populations, we promised to improve the Health Plan Finder tool to give LGBT individuals the ability to search for health plans that provide same-sex partner benefits," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Today we have delivered on that promise."
Kudos to Secretary Sebelius and the other staff at HHS for showing us how we won't be overlooked in health care reform.
Of course, I'm struck by the story of one of my champions in HHS, the openly lesbian head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Ms. Pamela Hyde. Having her as an open lesbian at the helm of that important agency has pushed changes we all appreciate, like a focus on LGBT suicide prevention. But when I heard her speak last, she talked about how she'd come from New Mexico to D.C. to take this post, and one of the things she lost en route was health insurance for her partner. The federal government did not offer domestic partner insurance coverage, whereas the State of New Mexico did offer such coverage. So, I really do applaud today's move, but I'm reminded that employers need to allow this coverage before it'll help us to be able to find an insurer who offers it.