To win the future, America will need to make the kind of investments and reforms that allow our nation to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world. Effectively implementing the Affordable Care Act is a vital part of this effort.
But some in Congress want to refight the political battles of the past two years and repeal the law, along with all the new consumer protections and benefits that go with it. That would be a major setback for everyone, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Evidence suggests that at least a portion of the LGBT community is disproportionately uninsured. And historically, many LGBT individuals have been misunderstood, ignored or openly discriminated against in our health-care system.
For people living with HIV, it can be even worse: Fewer than one in five has private insurance, and nearly 30 percent do not have any coverage at all.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, that is changing. The health-care law is already offering new coverage options to many Americans.
The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan is already helping people living with pre-existing conditions like HIV/AIDS to get coverage. As of last fall, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children because of their pre-existing health conditions. And in 2014, this protection will extend to all Americans. That’s when new, competitive health-insurance marketplaces will be established under the law, along with expanded Medicaid eligibility and new tax credits for middle-class families.
The law is also protecting LGBT Americans from many of the worst abuses of the insurance industry. A year ago, insurers could cancel your coverage when you got sick just because you made a mistake on your application. Under the Patient’s Bill of Rights, this practice has been banned, along with other harmful policies like lifetime dollar limits on coverage, which often meant your benefits disappeared when you needed them most.
Thanks to the law, LGBT Americans are getting some relief from skyrocketing premiums with new resources for states to strengthen their oversight of insurance companies, and new rules that limit the amount of your premium dollars that insurers may spend on marketing and CEO bonuses.
And the law is helping millions of LGBT Americans gain access to recommended preventive care and screenings for free, including for certain diseases that affect LGBT populations at a rate higher than other populations.
The Affordable Care Act is also making additional investments to address health disparities. New funding will help build a more diverse and culturally competent health-care workforce and help community health centers to serve up to 20 million more patients. And increased research and data collection on health disparities will give policymakers the knowledge and tools to continue to target resources to underserved communities.
For LGBT communities, the new health-care law is already making a difference in people’s lives, helping families get care, addressing health disparities and putting our nation on a better path for the future.
Undoing this progress now would be a terrible mistake.
Kathleen Sebelius is the secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.