Monday, March 22, 2010

Did Gays Get Shafted in the Health Care Deal?

Two conservative gay groups, GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans are reporting that several provisions that would have helped gays and lesbians have been scrapped. They were in the House version of the bill, but dropped in the Senate version, the same one that passed the House last night. As far as I can tell, it won't none of the changes will be included in the so-called "fixes" the Senate will take up after the President signs the bill into law on Tuesday.

Stephen Miller of the Independent Gay Forum shares one of the missing GLBT friendly provisions:

The original House-passed health care bill contained a provision extending to domestic partners the same tax exclusion on the value of employer-provided health benefits that spouses of employees receive. That was a major step forward—the taxes paid by domestic partners but not spouses for "family coverage" are huge.

The Senate dropped the tax-equalizing provision entirely in its version of the health care bill, although at the same time it loosened the language restricting government funding of abortion. Score: One for the pro-choice/abortion lobby, zero for gays.

A news service article shares that the efforts of Tammy Baldwin, the only open lesbian serving in Congress, to include gay-friendly provisions came up short:

Baldwin had sought and secured four pro-gay provisions in the original House version of health care reform, including a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in health care.

But neither the Senate bill nor President Obama’s proposal late last month included those provisions. Baldwin had held out hope, as late as Thursday morning, that at least two of the provisions might be added back under whatever legislative package the House and Senate would eventually vote on.

But by Thursday afternoon, when the text of that final package was posted on the Internet, that hope was quashed.

The version of health care reform legislation being considered now by Congress - with the final critical votes scheduled to begin this weekend - does include some relief for people with HIV on Medicare who must purchase expensive AIDS-related medications.

But it does not include the anti-discrimination provision or three others. Those others included the “Early Treatment for HIV Act,” which sought to allow states to provide Medicaid coverage to low-income HIV positive individuals; the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, which sought to end the tax for gay employees whose partners/spouses are covered under their work health insurance coverage; and a provision to collect data toward ending disparities in health care for LGBT people.

However, the DC Agenda notes there are some bright spots for persons living with HIV/AIDS:

Although the LGBT and HIV/AIDS provisions unique to the House legislation weren’t included in the reconciliation package, the final bill has one provision aimed to help to HIV/AIDS community that was included in both the House and Senate versions of the legislation.

The language would enable AIDS Drug Assistance Program expeditures to count toward out-of-pocket expenses under Medicare Part D. In other words, people with HIV/AIDS on Medicare who receive help purchasing HIV drugs would have a lesser burden for other prescription drug costs.

Other provisions in the final bill less explicitly directed at people with HIV/AIDS would assist people living with the condition.

The final health bill eliminates discrimination based on health status or pre-existing conditions, such as HIV/AIDS. Additionally, the bill expands Medicaid eligibility for people with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level, allowing more low-income people with HIV to access Medicaid and its prescription drug coverage.

I'm not under any illusions that Republicans would have done better on these issues, but it does seem like yet again, the Democrats are taking advantage of the gay community and we are letting them do it.

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