Wednesday, July 10, 2013
News for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Physicians
Post-DOMA, government working to provide benefits to gay couples
Gay federal employees in legal same-sex marriages will be eligible immediately for health and pension benefits following the Supreme Court of the United States' ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), according to a June 28 memorandum from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
The memo acknowledges at least five new benefits for which married gay couples will be eligible, including health insurance, life insurance, dental and vision insurance, long-term care insurance and retirement benefits. Elaine Kaplan, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, acknowledged that this will not be an overnight process.
"There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court's decision, and it is impossible to answer every question that you might have," Kaplan, a lesbian, wrote. "Nevertheless, I want to assure you that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the court's ruling."
While this is welcome news for gay couples legally married by states that recognize same-sex marriages, couples in states that do not recognize these unions still will be excluded. This is because the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling did not strike down all of the DOMA. Section 2, which says states can decide not to recognize the marriages of gay couples who wed in other states, still stands.
"The decision means that same-sex married couples will have access to some federal benefits but will not have access to the full range of marriage benefits due to state marriage bans," Mark Daley, a spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a report by NBCNews.com.
The AMA filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting repeal of the DOMA.
AMA President Ardis D. Hoven, MD, applauded the court on the decision and its impact on public health. "The U.S. Supreme Court's rulings today, overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and leaving in place a California federal court ruling striking down a ban on same-sex marriage, will help eliminate health disparities in same-sex households by ensuring all households are afforded the same health care rights," Dr. Hoven said in a statement.
"Same-sex households will now be eligible to share the benefits of employer-based health insurance and the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of a spouse," she said. "This is a welcome step for improving health care access and delivery."
GLMA offers advice on proactively seeking health care for LGBT persons
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community experiences significant health disparities and discrimination. For example, 9 percent of LGBT adults have been diagnosed with cancer, compared to only 6 percent of heterosexual adults. LGBT adults also are more likely to have problems with alcoholism, and transgender adults are far more likely to have suicide ideation than non-transgender adults.
Despite these obstacles, America is making progress in LGBT health, bolstered by medical organizations like the AMA and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA). At its June Annual Meeting, the AMA voted the GLMA into the House of Delegates, its principal policymaking body. The GLMA is the first and only LGBT-focused organization to sit in the AMA House.
While there still is work to be done to accomplish LGBT health equality, GLMA offers a variety of ways LGBT patients and physicians can be proactive about their health care now. Their suggestions, featured in a recent article for the Huffington Post, include:
- Come out to your doctors, especially your primary care physician. They need to know your sexual orientation and gender identity in order to provide the best care possible.
- Don't wait. Start talking now. Discuss important health issues with your physician at your next visit. GLMA's fact sheet "Top 10 health issues to discuss with your provider" is a great tool to help start the conversation.
- Encourage your physician and other health care providers to learn more about LGBT health. Health care providers continuously are learning the latest health information and best practices for caring for various communities, so encourage them to learn about this community. The AMA offers a variety of resources to help physicians accomplish this goal, including sample intake forms and videos on communicating with LGBT patients.