Healthcare. Community. Two words with really big meaning. We all have to deal with healthcare, whether it’s preventative care, long-term illnesses, the occasional cold or allergy flare up, mental health needs, and the list goes on. For many people in our communities, the healthcare needed for these things has been out of reach because care is costly. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, our healthcare landscape has rapidly changed. There have been some bumps and bruises along that journey, and that’s to be expected when a system changes so drastically to make sure that we all have access to health insurance – a key part of affording healthcare. Our communities have the opportunity to get better care and more timely care. Historically, and presently, LGBTQ2S** folks have faced huge issues with healthcare, including denial of insurance and discrimination in doctors’ offices. But making insurance available to more people at affordable rates (and for Oregonians, there are no longer wait lists for Oregon Health Plan!), we can finally access more services and care that will help us live happy and healthy lives. Q Center is just one of several dozen community organizations that have been working with Cover Oregon since its creation and while we all know that our state’s health exchange has not rolled out with ease and has had its ups and downs, the hardworking people working on the ground with our communities and the community agencies racing to reach out to hundreds of thousands of Oregonians have made sure that more of us have insurance. Data posted recently show that over 95% of Oregonians now have health insurance! That’s huge!
And while we did all of this work together, I kept asking myself and others: What about LGBTQ2S Oregonians? What happens when a trans person goes to apply for health insurance and is repeatedly misgendered? It can be a costly process to change your name and gender marker and this process is unfortunately out of reach for thousands of trans people, so what information do you use when applying for health insurance? What about your Social Security Number? Your card doesn’t have a gender marker on it, but your record does and your number is used to verify your identity and your income. What if documents don’t match up? You get denied or delayed potentially life-saving healthcare. Additionally, we’ve had many marriage law changes, which also affects how you file your taxes. Did you know that same-sex married couples can file taxes together and receive a larger tax credit toward getting health insurance? Does the insurance agent or application assister helping you and your spouse know this? There are so many layers! There are so many questions! And because we know the startling statistics about people dying without health insurance or losing everything and facing bankruptcy due to expensive medical care that could have been covered if they’d only had insurance, we knew we needed to make sure our helpers have all the information possible.
We worked with Cascade AIDS Project, the Partnership Project at OHSU, and Cover Oregon to create a special Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sheet for insurance agents, insurance application assisters, and health navigators that clear up many of the questions we have and carving a path to more affirming and supportive services for LGBTQ2S people. We want to make sure you have the best experience possible getting insurance, and while we can’t fix everything about the process, we can try to make interactions more respectful and more informed about your identities.
And at the same time this is happening, we are out working with doctors, nurses, therapists, hospital systems, clinics, and other providers to make sure you have more affirming care options. Health insurance is great when you can use it! Through our training institute, we are educating more providers about everything from LGBTQ2S 101 to specific care practices for trans clients and patients.
Healthcare should not be a privilege, but a right we all have. While we have a long way to go, we applaud Cover Oregon’s attention and willingness to work toward a healthier Oregon that includes ALL of us.
Important facts to know:
• The health insurance exchanges open again November 15, 2014.
• Did you get married this year? Divorced? Birth or adoption? If you have experienced any of the recognized life events, please make sure to contact (ASAP!) Cover Oregon or the agency who helped you become insured as your insurance coverage may change.
**LGBTQ2S here means lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, & two-spirit.