Health Care Reform Forgets the Gays

Today, thanks to the U.S. House of Representatives, some 32 million people currently without health care can now get coverage. This is certainly good news, especially if you are among that number. However, the legislation still leaves many people out in the cold, including gay and lesbian people who take advantage of partnership benefits through their work.

Unlike heterosexually-married couples, gay and lesbian people—and unmarried straight people—who use domestic partner benefits to obtain health insurance for their significant other are taxed on those benefits. The result can be that a gay or lesbian person, according to the Human Rights Campaign, can pay “upwards of 50% more in federal taxes,” than their heterosexually-married counterparts. In the original bill passed by the House last year, there was a provision in the bill doing away with this unfair taxation. It disappeared somewhere between the House and Senate version, never to be heard from again. That prompted even Jimmy LaSalvia, head of the gay Republican group GOProud to complain:

Instead of making domestic-partner benefits more available, this legislation will make them less available. Instead of empowering gay families to have more control over their health care decisions, this legislation will put more power in the hands of a federal government that denies any recognition for gay couples. Instead of supporting tax equity for domestic partners, they supported tax increases on gay families.

Unfair taxation of gay and lesbian couples was not the only casualty of the process. The HRC points out that measures “permitting states to offer early HIV treatment under Medicaid, collecting critical health data on LGBT people, and addressing discrimination in health care,” were also axed from the bill.

While saddened by the omissions, the HRC applauded the bill for “reforms like eliminating pre-existing condition limitations and expanding Medicaid [that will] significantly impact people living with HIV and AIDS.” The HRC also acknowledged that many LGBT people will benefit from the bill as passed, just not as much as they could or should have.

As cheers and jeers are being aired over this legislation, it’s important to remember who is left behind and who is harmed by this legislation like gay and lesbian people, those suffering from HIV and AIDS, and the right of a woman to get her health care insurance to pay for a perfectly legal medical procedure called abortion.

United Church of Christ pastor Chuck Currie calls the passage of the bill a “moral victory that brings our nation closer to being the Beloved Community we want it to be.” Yes, I’ll agree we’re probably a bit closer, but it’s interesting that with each new reform it’s always the same kinds of people who are left outside the doors of the latest and greatest version of the “beloved community.”