WASHINGTON - A new analysis of healthcare equality by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation found that the vast majority of U.S. healthcare facilities don't have fully inclusive policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, but that sweeping new changes will soon dramatically alter how LGBT people interact with the healthcare system.
Kaiser Permanente - one of the nation's largest not-for-profit health providers - updated its Patients' Bill of Rights to fully protect LGBT patients and their families from discrimination. These changes, which took effect in Kaiser Permanente's network of 36 hospitals today, make Kaiser Permanente the first large health network to have a fully inclusive non-discrimination policy for LGBT people. They are also the first health network to achieve Top Performer status in the HRC Foundation's Healthcare Equality Index (HEI).
The HEI 2010 comes following President Obama's memorandum in April directing Health and Human Services (HHS) to make rules that require all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding - nearly every hospital in America - to protect the visitation and healthcare decision-making rights of LGBT people. It also comes as the Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies healthcare facilities, has announced new, fully inclusive patient non-discrimination standards as part of their accreditation process. Together, these developments mean that LGBT healthcare equality is going to improve nationwide, in towns big and small, from New York to Mississippi to Utah to San Francisco.
"The healthcare landscape for LGBT patients and their families is about to change dramatically," said Joe Solmonese, president of the HRC Foundation. "We all know horror stories of loved ones torn apart, already heart-wrenching decisions made even harder, and basic human rights denied. Bold action by the President and the Joint Commission mean many of those stories will be a thing of the past - and not a moment too soon, because as of right now huge challenges remain on the books."
While these changes are being put into place, it's critical for LGBT people to ensure they're prepared before tragedy strikes - particularly in preparing legal documentation like advance directives (such as a health care proxy or living will) and visitation authorization forms. Individuals should discuss these decisions with their primary care physician, file forms with local hospitals and carry the information on their person. More information is in the section for LGBT patients at www.hrc.org/HEI.
The HEI 2010 independently reviewed a representative sample of 200 of the largest healthcare facilities nationwide. The report found that in all 50 states - and even in historically LGBT-friendly cities like San Francisco and New York - there are facilities that do not fully protect LGBT people from healthcare discrimination. Ninety-three percent of healthcare facilities included in the study do not have fully inclusive policies toward LGBT people, and 42 percent don't include "sexual orientation" in their Patients' Bill of Rights/non-discrimination policy.
In addition, the healthcare reform bill passed by Congress and signed by the President, while a step forward for all Americans, failed to address important issues facing LGBT people. It did not end the unfair taxation of employer-provided domestic partner health benefits, it did not permit states to offer early HIV treatment under Medicaid and it did not mandate collection of critical health data on LGBT people. Maybe worst of all, it did not address the fundamental issue of discrimination in healthcare: many health insurance plans do not offer domestic partner benefits or healthcare benefits for transgender Americans.
However, there are bright spots. The HEI 2010 also includes data from 178 facilities across the country that voluntarily provided information on patient non-discrimination, visitation, cultural competency training, and employment non-discrimination. Of the 178 facilities nationwide, 11 individual facilities and one network of 36 hospitals received perfect ratings, and many have made advances over the last three years since the HEI began. The HRC Foundation also provides hospitals with comprehensive resources to help ensure healthcare equality for LGBT people.
"Healthcare that is free of prejudice is a fundamental human value, and a fundamental American value," said Solmonese. "We thank all healthcare facilities that voluntarily participated in this year's HEI for showing an implicit commitment to the rights of LGBT patients and their families. While many LGBT people may indeed have a positive experience in these hospitals, we believe that the standard for equality must be policies that are put in writing and carried out in practice. We urge all healthcare facilities to move toward greater inclusiveness, because sooner rather than later, that's where America is headed."
The HEI 2010 is dedicated to the memory of Lisa Pond and the advocacy of her partner Janice Langbehn. In 2007, when Pond was rushed to a hospital emergency room with a brain aneurysm, Langbehn and their children were kept from Pond as her life slipped away. Thanks to the tireless work of Langbehn and other advocates for health equality, this year the hospital updated its policies to protect the rights of LGBT patients and their families.
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.