Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress released a groundbreaking report on LGBT access to healthcare. The report found that, on average, LGBT people and families are less likely to have health insurance or access to quality, comprehensive healthcare.
Unacceptable barriers to coverage and care
The LGBT community lacks access to healthcare coverage and care for a variety of reasons; chief among them being narrow definitions of “family” and “spouse” that prevent LGBT families from securing family coverage through one member’s employer sponsored insurance.
While New Mexico state government as well as some cities has extended healthcare rights to their employees’ same-sex partners and families, these discriminatory rules continue to deny many LGBT people and families access to comprehensive healthcare coverage.
Another, more fundamental barrier to coverage lies in the fact that LGBT people continue to face workplace discrimination in the hiring process. As such, LGBT people are less likely to have full time employment and are thus also less likely to access employer-sponsored healthcare benefits. This problem especially impacts the transgender community.
Increasing coverage through federal healthcare reform
Federal healthcare reform will extend healthcare coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans. This will happen in two ways: through an expansion of the federal/state Medicaid program, and the creation of state and national health insurance exchanges.
A health insurance exchange will be a virtual marketplace where consumers and small businesses can purchase insurance. Low and middle income Americans purchasing insurance through the exchange will qualify for federal subsidies in order to defray a large portion of the cost of purchasing insurance.
New Mexico has a real opportunity to reduce the rate of uninsured New Mexicans (we have one of the highest rates of uninsured in the country) by ensuring that as many income-eligible people are able to purchase coverage through the exchange as possible.
Shaping healthcare reform in New Mexico
To that end, Equality New Mexico partnered with the federal department of Health and Human Services and the New Mexico Human Services Department to develop recommendations on how a New Mexico exchange could be made most accessible to the LGBT community, and thereby better ensure that more income eligible LGBT consumers will be able to purchase coverage through the exchange.
Our report to the state and federal government can be found here. In it, we ask:
- That the state require insurance providers offering insurance through the exchange to cover same-sex partners and families. It would be a tragedy if discriminatory rules regarding family coverage used in the private market were transferred into a public, tax-payer subsidized Exchange.
- That the state and federal government develop and conduct LGBT specific and targeted education and enrollment, to ensure that LGBT consumers are aware of their options for coverage under federal healthcare reform.
This report represents a watershed moment in the story of LGBT healthcare advocacy in New Mexico, and will serve as the basis of our healthcare advocacy moving forward.