Now in full effect, the Affordable Care Act is improving the quality of health care and providing health coverage for Pennsylvania’s uninsured. Moreover, those in the LGBT community have seen their rights expand tremendously.
Gov. Tom Corbett recently announced that he would not challenge the court ruling that made Pennsylvania the 19th state where same-sex couples could legally marry. For so many in the LGBT community, this was a historic and emotional moment that opened the door to new possibilities.
As a social worker and state director for the nonprofit Enroll America, I help the uninsured understand the Affordable Care Act. As someone with a gay brother, I can tell you the cause of health equality is shared by advocates and allies alike. Now our role is to educate the LGBT community about the new health opportunities that are available.
You may be able to get affordable health insurance before enrollment reopens in November, regardless of how you identify yourself. A lesser-known provision of the Affordable Care Act allows for uninsured people who experience a life-changing event — like a marriage, addition of a child or the loss of a job — to enroll in a quality, affordable plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. In this case, if you are uninsured and marry your partner, you’d qualify to enroll through a “Special Enrollment Period.”
If you do choose to marry your partner and either of you are uninsured, this will start a 60-day special-enrollment period during which you can log on to healthcare.gov or sit down with a free, in-person enrollment assister to talk to you about your coverage options. And every piece of the Affordable Care Act will be available to your new family.
Legally married couples can also receive financial assistance to pay for their plan. In fact, 81 percent of Pennsylvanians who enrolled in coverage during the first open-enrollment period received financial assistance to make their plan affordable. Additionally, lifetime and annual caps are now prohibited, meaning you won’t need to worry about running into limits to receive the treatment you need.
But the plans aren’t just affordable — they’re quality as well. Every plan through the Affordable Care Act must cover essential services like preventative screenings that can identify diseases before they become a bigger problem. Under the law, no Pennsylvanian can be denied coverage because of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. And insurance companies can’t deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions — meaning that being diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes or any other condition no longer means you will struggle to find coverage to pay for your treatment.
We’ve made a lot of progress here in Pennsylvania, not only for the LGBT community, but for the health of all Pennsylvanians. In the first enrollment period, more than 318,000 Pennsylvanians were able to enroll in a quality, affordable plan that covers the basic services one needs to stay healthy. But there is still more work to be done, including reaching and educating the uninsured about the ACA.
The Affordable Care Act supports the ideal that equal access to health information and services is a key stepping stone to equality for all people, regardless of sex, race, gender identity or anything else. Our progress toward legal equality is tied to our community’s health equality, and that’s what the health-reform law seeks to accomplish.These advancements will help reduce health disparities in the LGBT community.
That’s a shared legacy all Pennsylvanians can take pride in.
Bill England is the Pennsylvania state director of Enroll America. For more information, visit www.enrollamerica.org.