Big win for LGBTQ health, but our work continues

  • by Amanda Wallner
  • Wednesday April 5, 2017
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As someone who works in LGBTQ health policy, November 8 left me with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. And over the next few weeks, as colleagues and I looked at what the new administration wanted to do to unravel health reform and the progress we've made in LGBTQ health, the feeling set in deeper.

The nominations of Tom Price for Health and Human Services secretary, Seema Verma for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services director, and Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice did nothing to quell this sense of doom. These are people whose beliefs are not only hostile to LGBTQ people, but to the missions of the very institutions they are charged with overseeing.

The first sigh of relief came two weeks ago when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) pulled the American Health Care Act from its scheduled floor vote. This was a tremendous turn of events after the rushed committee votes and reported deal-making between various factions of the Republican Party that put amendments on the table to repeal essential health benefits.

There have been myriad think pieces over the last few weeks about what ultimately doomed AHCA, but in my opinion it's pretty obvious. Throughout the country, activists made thousands of calls, flooded town hall meetings, hosted their own events, and generated news headlines in their communities. Everyday Americans spoke out about how the Affordable Care Act had helped them �" even saved their lives �" and how the new proposal would jeopardize their health. If you are one of the people who called your member of Congress or attended a town hall meeting, this win is yours.

We are not out of the woods yet. I have no doubt this administration will continue to challenge us. Recent headlines confirm this, telling us that the administration has appointed a longtime anti-LGBT advocate to head the Civil Rights Division of HHS and that it is rolling back data collection on LGBTQ older adults. These actions are disheartening and a step in the wrong direction. But we go into these and future battles with a win under our belt and a fresh reminder that our activism can and already has made a difference.

Here in California, we won't only be fighting the rollbacks, but also defining and pursuing a progressive LGBTQ health equity agenda.

At a time when the federal government is making news for making LGBTQ people invisible in the 2020 census, thanks to Assembly Bill 959, the state of California will soon begin collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data on its own forms. This data will help us to better understand and address health disparities.

While the administration's proposed budget cuts funding from HIV research, the California Office of AIDS is investing in programs to help people living with HIV pay for health insurance and expand access to PrEP.

President Donald Trump's tough talk about reigning in health care prices turned out to be all bluster and he backed off of campaign promises to reign in pharmaceutical companies. But here in California, the Legislature is considering Senate Bill 17, a bill that will improve drug price transparency and help level the playing field for consumers.

In the years since ACA was passed, the uninsurance rate in the country has dropped to its lowest point in our nation's history. Many people have access to health care for the first time �" including cancer screenings and other preventative care. This increase in access has been especially important for LGBTQ people, who have even higher unisurance rates than the general population and also experience higher rates of cancer mortality, HIV, tobacco use, and many other health disparities.

This is the progress that the current administration is threatening, and that I am committed to preserving and building upon.


Amanda Wallner is the director of the California LGBT Health and Human Services Network, a statewide coalition of nonprofit providers, community centers, and researchers working collectively to advocate for state level policies and resources that will advance LGBT health.