Sebelius, Human Rights Campaign Praise Each Other for Promoting LGBT Equality in Healthcare

By Elizabeth Harrington | June 19, 2012 | 6:25pm EDT

( – Too many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face “discrimination and bigotry in the healthcare system,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday.

She was speaking at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., at the launch of the Human Rights Campaign’s 2012 “Healthcare Equality Index” (HEI), which evaluates healthcare providers on their services to the LGBT community.

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“For over 32 years the Human Rights Campaign has been an incredibly powerful voice for many who couldn’t speak for themselves,” Sebelius said.

“You’ve raised the voices for fairness and equality for LGBT Americans in the workplace, in the armed services and now in our country’s healthcare system.”

HRC reciprocated the praise. “The HEI has also helped countless LGBT patients find quality healthcare, free of prejudice and free of discrimination,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “But none of this could happen without allies like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.”

Under Sebelius the, department has “taken major steps to better understand and address the unique healthcare needs of LGBT Americans,” Griffin said.

“Secretary Sebelius cares deeply about the health and well being of all Americans and she is a true friend to our community.”

Since 2007, the organization’s HEI has assessed the status of LGBT healthcare. This year, it surveyed 407 healthcare facilities and deemed 234 of them – or 57 percent – to be “Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality” for meeting four criteria.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius meets with Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, at the release of the HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index 2012 on Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (Photo by Judy Rolfe/HRC)

The “Core Four” standards that hospitals and clinics must meet to achieve that ranking are a “patient’s bill of rights”, an employment non-discrimination policy that includes the term “sexual orientation”; a policy that grants same-sex couples visitation rights; and training for “LGBT patient-centered care.”

Sebelius said that although nearly 60 percent of respondents made the grade, the figure still fell short.  “I can assure you that we are going to follow up on that other 40 percent,” she said.  “We have a few little tools that we can use in our tool kit to get their attention.”

HRC says the HEI survey exists “to meet a deep and urgent need” for “equitable, knowledgeable, sensitive and welcoming healthcare, free from discrimination based on LGBT status.”

Sebelius echoed the need for the survey. “Today LGBT Americans face numerous barriers to health, from providers who just don’t understand their unique health needs, to difficulty getting health insurance because they can’t get coverage for a partner or a spouse,” she said.

“And unfortunately throughout our country still way too many LGBT individuals face discrimination and bigotry in the healthcare system,” she added.

The report offers stories from LGBT individuals, to illustrate the type of patient experiences HRC seeks to prevent.

“When I walked toward the women’s bathroom in the waiting area, the receptionist jumped up and told me to use a McDonald’s restroom down the street. I felt like leaving and never going back,” the report quotes a “transgender woman waiting for her first physical in years” as saying.

Another patient, described as a “lesbian mother after the birth of her first child,” is quoted as saying, “I couldn’t believe it – as I walked back to see my partner and our newborn, an employee stopped me and asked who I was. When I said ‘the other mom,’ she rolled her eyes and walked away saying, ‘I don’t believe this.’”

“One’s sexual orientation or gender identity should never affect the medical care they receive,” Griffin said.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks at the release of the HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index 2012. (Photo by Judy Rolfe/HRC)

The HRC report also highlights “Transgender Health Benefits,” concluding that most health plans exclude coverage seen as transgender-related, “forcing transgender individuals to pay out of pocket for needed care, or to do without it.”

HRC advocates that sex reassignment surgery be included in employer-provided healthcare coverage.

“Medically necessary treatments and procedures, such as those defined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders, should be included in employer-provided healthcare and short-term disability coverage,” it says.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health defines sex reassignment surgery as “medically necessary.”

The HEI also provides online resources for LGBT patients on tips for “Coming out to your doctor.”  Patients are encouraged to ask for referrals, inquire by phone and bring a friend. Health care providers are told to “be sensitive.”

“Make sure you and your staff know which pronouns are appropriate to use when referring to a transgender patient or same-sex couple,” HRC says.

It also advises doctors to revise client forms. “Allow options for male/female/transgender and use neutral terms like ‘partner’ or ‘spouse’ rather than ‘single,’ ‘married’ or ‘divorced.’ Use ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ to include same-sex couples raising children.”

Tuesday’s release of the HEI report took place at Howard University Hospital, an institution awarded “leader” status for LGBT care in 2012.

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