When 25-year-old Carl Anderson was diagnosed with HIV, he learned just how important health care coverage can be. Soon after his diagnosis, Carl became uninsured, and he realized he’d have to face the staggering costs of his treatment on his own. Like Carl, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are disproportionately uninsured or underinsured. That leaves millions of LGBT people — including a significant number of LGBT people of color like Carl — without access to the affordable care they need to stay healthy.
Carl saw this firsthand when he discovered that a one-month supply of medication cost $1,500. As a result, Carl started doing what too many in his position are forced to do: rationing medication crucial to his treatment.
Fortunately, Carl got help from Legacy Community Health Services in Houston, where he signed up for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Now, he can afford his treatments, and he’s feeling better than ever. Still, there are too many people facing the same challenge, who don’t know a solution is within reach.
This week is LGBT Week of Action, a chance for government, private, and nonprofit partners to help spread the word about open enrollment to the LGBT community. Increasing access to health care coverage is critical for a community that still faces stigma and challenges in access to both care and health services.
Statistics show that LGBT people are more likely to live in poverty and have more chronic health conditions. And health care means more than just physical care. Because of discrimination and stigma, LGBT people are more vulnerable to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than non-LGBT people.
Moreover, life-threatening but treatable diseases, like HIV, disproportionately affect the LGBT community. In 2010, only half of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV stayed in treatment for a full year, most likely because they didn’t have a reliable source of care. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, three in 10 gay and bisexual men report that they don’t have a regular physician. Tragically, LGBT Americans are also more likely to postpone medical care because of cost barriers. In fact, nearly half of transgender Americans report having to pause or stop their care when they were sick because they could not afford it.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, preventive health services, annual checkups, and screenings, including HIV testing, are now available to millions of Americans. Insurance companies can’t deny preventive services because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, the ACA has provided one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation.
Thanks to the Obama administration and the work of many dedicated organizations working with the LGBT community, nearly 18 million Americans, including people like Carl Anderson, can finally receive necessary health care. But too many LGBT people are still living without access to the medical coverage that could change their lives for the better. It’s time to take action.
If you don’t have health insurance, or if you have a friend or loved one who needs health insurance, visit HealthCare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov to shop for quality, affordable health coverage. Enrolling is easier than ever, whether over the phone, online, or in person. You can call (800) 318-2596 for confidential assistance at any hour of the day, in English or Spanish. And financial help is available to make coverage affordable. In fact, more than seven in 10 returning Marketplace customers will be able to buy a plan for $75 or less a month in premiums after tax credits. But to ensure that you’re covered starting in January, you must sign up by December 15.
Health coverage matters, for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. Get informed, and get covered today.
SYLVIA M. BURWELL is the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CHAD H. GRIFFIN is the president of the Human Rights Campaign.