As Pride Celebrations Ensue, LGBTQ Communities Still Lack Access to Healthcare

June is unoficially recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month, and this year New York City residents have another reason to celebrate.

In honor of Pride, the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio published the city’s first-ever LGBTQ Health Care Bill of Rights this week. The Bill of Rights includes a 10-point list that ensures that residents of the city have the right to “receive compassionate, judgement-free and comprehensive care that is mindful of your sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” among 9 other guaranteed provisions.

“As the city celebrates Pride, we have a clear message for all New Yorkers: It is your right to be treated with dignity and professionalism by your doctor, no matter who you have sex with or what your gender identity is. If you are not treated respectfully, find a new doctor,” NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in the statement.

While the efforts of New York City’s administration are a positive step forward for LGBTQ individuals in an already progresive state, for many LGBTQ individuals throughout the U.S., receiving quality healthcare is a major pain point.

Studies have found that lesbians and bisexual women have higher rates of breast cancer than their heterosexual counterparts. All too often, they receive less routine health care examinations, including those for breast and cervical cancer screenings. In the same vein, gay and bisexual men also face a number of barriers to getting the screening and routine health care they need. LGBTQ people also have a higher risk for mental illness, are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and use drugs as coping mechanisms, and less likely to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

The health care disparities between straight populations and the LGBTQ community are vast. One main contributor to the disparity is the fear of facing discrimination in hospitals, as well as the stigma associated with mental health treatment–issues which have made many pause when considering seeking care. Others have had negative experiences  with healthcare providers who do not understand their specific needs. This is especially true in rural areas of the country.

Perhaps the most pervasive barrier to the LGBTQ community having adequate access to healthcare, however, lies in the fact that LGBTQ populations are less likely to have access to affordable health insurance.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ individuals had a particularly hard time obtaining insurance coverage due to discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

“In 2013, before the ACA’s coverage reforms came into effect, 1 in 3 LGBT people making less than $45,000 per year (34 percent) were uninsured,” writes Kellan Baker and Laura E. Durso of the Center for American Progress. “Just one year later, in 2014, uninsurance for this group had dropped by one-quarter to 1 in 4 (26 percent), and by 2017, CAP’s study finds that it was around 1 in 5 (22 percent).

While the decrease in uninsured populations is a sign of progress, LGBTQ citizens still face insurance disparities. According to a new study by the Center for American Progress, 15 percent of LGBT Americans across all income ranges are uninsured in 2017, compared to only 7 percent of non-LGBTQ Americans.

Some advocates of the LGBTQ community are thus calling on lawmakers to consider expanding coverage of the Affordable Care Act, believing that conservative efforts to repeal and replace the ACA would certainly undo progress that the LGBTQ community has experienced over the past five years.

“Conservative proposals to repeal and replace the ACA—such as the American Health Care Act, or AHCA—would undo these gains and hurt LGBT people, their families, and their neighbors,” Baker and Durso write. “The path to a stronger, healthier America for all lies not in depriving millions of Americans of the benefits of coverage but in protecting and expanding on the gains of the ACA.”

As Pride celebrations carry on in cities throughout the country, it’s important that LGBTQ health is kept at the forefront of the national dialogue.

In order for these individuals reap the benefits of affordable health care and insurance, doctors and nurses must not only be trained on how to deliver cost effective care, but also know how to provide a health care environment that is open and free of judgement, and work to educate the public in order to reduce health-related stigmas. In the same vein, lawmakers must think of those most disenfranchised when making decisions about the future of healthcare for all Americans.

A great deal is at stake for the LGBTQ population–and all Americans–when it comes to the future of healthcare. While it’s commendable that communities like New York City are coming together to ensure that those who are most disenfranchised are well taken care of, for the LGBTQ community to truly thrive, those provisions need to be in place for all.

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