by Eric Rader
Yes, they did. In a stunning cliffhanger of a vote last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed landmark health care legislation that fulfills a century-old quest by presidents of both parties to enact comprehensive health care coverage for Americans.
Now that President Obama has signed this bill into law, 95 percent of Americans will begin to have access to affordable health coverage. While this legislation falls short of universal health care coverage, it goes a long way toward ensuring that Americans will not have go bankrupt to take care of basic health needs, and will help guarantee that people won’t have to put off vital preventive medical procedures.
The health care law joins Social Security and Medicare as a vital part of our nation’s social safety net. America now joins the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteeing basic health coverage to its citizens. This indeed is something to celebrate.
Unfortunately, the health care law does not include LGBT-specific provisions that had been included in earlier versions of the legislation. For example, it does not end the tax penalty levied on people who receive domestic partner benefits from their employers. Efforts to prevent health care providers from discriminating against LGBTs also failed, as did a provision that would have required the collection of data on disparities in health coverage for our community. There is an effort to pass a separate bill regarding the tax penalty.
As this new law takes effect, the LGBT community should work with the Obama Administration to prevent health care discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Make no mistake, however: The new health care law is a monumental step forward for all Americans. Nearly every citizen, LGBTs included, will now have access to quality, affordable health care coverage.
It will soon be illegal for an insurer to deny coverage to a person because of a pre-existing condition. This will mean that a person with HIV cannot be denied insurance because of his or her status.
The legislation also provides a large amount of money to community health centers, many of which serve the LGBT community. As several LGBT organizations have noted, while the bill regrettably restores federal funding for some abstinence-until-marriage sexual education programs, it also provides money for evidence-based comprehensive instruction, too.
The process by which Congress passed this law was long and tortuous. Certainly the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership of Congress made some tactical mistakes along the way. However, in the end, the president and the leaders of Congress seized this once-in-a-generation opportunity to take care of an important piece of unfinished business in our country.
Republicans have been unanimous in their opposition to comprehensive health reform. In the final days of the debate, some members of the minority party and their “Tea Party” supporters exhibited vitriol in their opposition to the health care legislation. Many of the Tea Partiers spit and yelled racist and homophobic epithets at minority and gay members of Congress. Thankfully, Democratic members of Congress were not beaten back by the forces of hate, but stood firm in their determination to do the right thing for the American people. Some of the more extreme elements of the far-right movement have threatened physical violence against some supporters of the new law. Our community should stand in solidarity with the health care heroes, and against the hatred of reactionary forces.
In the end, all of us are better for this health care victory. The passage of comprehensive health care legislation marks the transformation of our country into a more compassionate nation.
In the coming weeks and months, it is important to maintain the momentum generated by this new law. The most important lesson for the LGBT community is this: never give up on core principles. Progress on our own issues may seem slow at times, and compromise may be necessary, but we should never give up on our goal of true equality. As the health care victory shows, no dream is impossible in the United States of America.
For more information on the implications of health care reform for the LGBT community, go to http://www.hrc.org or http://www.thetaskforce.org.