HHS announces plan to improve LGBT health

Move comes following release of study detailing ‘research gaps and opportunities’ related to LGBTs and healthcare

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday, April 1, that it is making new recommendations for future action to “improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

The announcement came on the heels of a federally sponsored report by the Institute of Medicine that identified “research gaps and opportunities” related to LGBT health. That report was released March 31.

It also came on the same day HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a new policy “explicitly requiring HHS employees to serve all individuals who are eligible for the department’s programs without regard to any non-merit factor, including race, national origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability (physical or mental), age, status as a parent, or genetic information.”

A lengthy press statement released by HHS on April 1 mostly reiterated actions HHS and the Obama administration taken have taken previously to improve the health and equal rights for LGBT people. For instance, it noted President Obama had called for new guidelines to require hospitals receiving federal funds to allow LGBT patients to designate who could visit them in the hospital.

But among the new actions announced, the press statement said that later this year, HHS’s website devoted to the new health reform law, the Affordable Care Act (HealthCare.gov) would provide “additional information of specific relevance to LGBT populations.”

“In particular,” noted the HHS statement, “the website will allow LGBT consumers to identity health insurance policies available to them that include coverage of domestic partners.”

The announcement said HHS would also work to increase:

• the “number of federally funded health and demographic surveys that collect and report sexual orientation and gender identity data;”

• “evaluate ways its programs can ensure equal treatment of LGBT families,” through such programs as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and others; and

• “encourage new and existing health profession training programs…to include LGBT cultural competency curricula.”

The IOM report released March 31 was commission by the National Institutes of Health, an agency of HHS. The report recommended that NIH conduct more research to “advance knowledge and understanding of LGBT health” and that HHS surveys collect data “on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

It also recommended “Data on sexual orientation and gender identity should be collected in electronic health records.

“Collecting these detailed patient-level data,” noted the IOM report, “with adequate privacy and security protection as is needed for all data collected in electronic health records, could assist in identifying and addressing LGBT health disparities.”

Local counselor Candy Marcum said she is not surprised by the findings in the study. According to the report, lesbian and bisexual women use preventive health services less frequently than heterosexual women.

Marcum said that when she first went to a gynecologist, the medical questionnaire asked how much sex she was having followed by what method of birth control she used. She said a major concern of the doctor is pregnancy.

“But that would involve having sex with a man and that just doesn’t sound right to me,” she said.

So to get proper care from her doctor, Marcum said, she had to come out. She said that doctors and caregivers are the most compassionate people but coming out to anyone can be scary.

Breast cancer and ovarian cancer occur more frequently among lesbians than straight women, the report said.

“You have the right for good health care,” Marcum said. But to make sure a physician looks for those things, it’s important for the doctor to know the patient’s sexual orientation.

She said the doctor has to have the proper context.

Marcum said another finding, that lesbians suffer from obesity more than women in general, is also not surprising. “Women are more accepting of the person they love,” she said.

Marcum said that the medical system is broken and that fewer people are accessing the system. But she said she is gratified that HHS was addressing the issues of the LGBT community.

The full IOM report can be read at iom.edu/Reports/2011/The-Health-of-Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-and-Transgender-People.aspx.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

Dallas Voice Staff Writer David Taffet contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright