LGBT advocates: Tie Medicare, Medicaid money to nondiscrimination policies

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is calling on the federal government to require that hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid money adopt policies banning discrimination against patients based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The call comes with the release of the HRC Foundation's  2014 Healthcare Equality Index, which measures how well hospitals treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients. Of the 1,507 healthcare facilities evaluated, 46 were designated by the group as a "Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality." That's double the number receiving the designation last year.

But, the report said, many hospitals "still have a long way to go toward true inclusion--despite the fact that many LGBT-inclusive policies are now required for accreditation and mandated by federal regulation."

While about 500 hospitals voluntarily participated in the survey, the foundation also evaluated another 1,000 hospitals across 50 states. Only half had employment non-discrimination policies that included both sexual orientation and gender identity, and transgender patients were "particularly vulnerable to inequitable treatment" even at many hospitals with patient nondiscrimination policies.

Tying hospital Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to enactment of nondiscrimination policies "wouldn't make hospitals suddenly welcome LGBT people with open arms, but it would give recourse to those who are harassed or humiliated when they seek care," HRC Vice President Jeff Krehely said in a commentary on "Most important, such a mandate would help ensure that LGBT people don't delay seeking care when it can literally be a matter of life or death."

The LGBT community is less likely to have health insurance than non-LGBT patients, a Gallup survey found this summer. Gallup said the findings suggest LGBT adults "experience hurdles in accessing health insurance and resources."

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services earlier this year said insurers offering spousal health insurance to heterosexual couples had to provide the same benefit to legally married same-sex couples.

For more information:
- read the HRC announcement
- here's the Healthcare Equality Index (.pdf)
- check out the commentary