By Lisa Keen
While conservatives riveted their attention to passing an amendment to ban the use of federal health care funds on abortion, the U.S. House passed a health care reform bill Saturday night that includes a number of provisions of benefit specifically to the LGBT community.
The House bill – HB 3962 – includes a provision to direct the Department of Health and Human Services to address “health disparities” of a number of specific population groups, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It makes people with HIV infection and low income eligible for Medicare coverage earlier in their illness. And it prohibits discrimination in health care based on “personal characteristics extraneous to the provision of high quality health care or related services.”
Jerilyn Goodman, a spokesperson for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) who led the effort to include the provisions, said the phrase “personal characteristics” is intended to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” But there was virtually no attention given to the LGBT-related provisions in debate over the bill.
The Human Rights Campaign praised the legislation for being “a tremendous advance for the health needs of LGBT people.” It said the bill also “ends unfair taxation” of gay employees who have their partners or spouses covered on their health insurance at work. The tax provision originated as a freestanding bill introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced a similar measure in the Senate but that has not been rolled into the Senate’s version of health care reform.
Instead, the House’s attention focused squarely on abortion. An amendment, offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), prohibits the proposed government-funded insurance option – the so-called “public option” – in the bill from providing coverage for an abortion. The House approved the amendment on a 240 to 194 Saturday; all three openly gay representatives voted against it.
The House then passed the overall reform bill on a 220 to 215 vote; all three openly gay representatives voted for it. The bill needed 218 votes to pass.
H.B. 3962, also known as the Affordable Health Care for America Act, aimed at ensuring that all citizens have access to some level of health care. It attempts to offer various health insurance options – including a government-run option – to enable people to choose what level they need and/or can afford. And it attempts to make some option available to even the poorest.
But the House plan must now await a Senate vote on its version of health care reform – a version that does not include any of the pro-gay provisions. Once the Senate passes its bill, a House-Senate conference committee will have to hammer out one compromise version of the legislation.
Despite pressure from the White House, the fate of a health care reform bill in the Senate is far from certain. In recent days, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has threatened to provide his vote to stage a Republican filibuster against consideration of a bill if the Senate version contains a government-run health insurance option. Without Lieberman’s vote, the Democratic majority would not have the 60 votes necessary to break any filibuster.