There's a lot of crap going on in our country right now. We are mired in overseas conflicts, we have a budget deficit that is spiraling out of control, we possess an insatiable appetite for a seemingly finite resource (oil), and nobody seems to want to fix those annoying, non-efficient, non-sensored downtown traffic lights!
We also have this small little problem of health care and those pesky 30 million or so Americans who are currently uninsured.
At first glance, health care seems like the least sexy topic imaginable; I mean, let's face it, compared to war, oil, Wall Street and downtown Colorado Springs traffic lights, it barely holds a candle. However, despite this, the elusive health care Siren has captured the attention of lawmakers with hearts (mostly Democrats) for three-quarters of a century. Unfortunately, it has mostly been for naught.
Until now. We are on the verge of living history. If Congress delivers a comprehensive health care reform bill to the president's desk, it would be one of the most sweeping legislative actions since ... hmmm. And, remarkably it seems, especially in light of what a polarizing issue gay marriage has become, there are some small yet significant (symbolic?) benefits included for us gays in the landmark bill that passed the House last month. (We're not used to being included in most things, so this is a big deal.)
Let's start with the significant stuff: The bill makes important strides in treating HIV and AIDS Medicaid recipients by allowing states to cover early HIV treatment under their Medicaid programs. Currently such treatment is withheld until the patient becomes symptomatic and develops full-blown AIDS. (I'll pause here to give you a moment to wrap your mind around the fact that we live in a country where poor people with HIV do not have access to treatment until they develop full-blown AIDS. It was certainly a disappointing shock for me.)
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for all those older lesbian couples who seem to saturate the Springs, the House's health care bill includes provisions for domestic partners of employees. Right now, domestic partner health care benefits are treated as taxable income for employees; under the reform bill, such benefits would be tax-free, just like those available to our hetero counterparts. (Equality — what a concept!)
Moving on to more symbolic inclusions: The bill prohibits discrimination on the basis of "personal characteristics" that are wholly unrelated to the provision of health care (i.e., sexual orientation). In theory, this is designed to prevent discrimination against gays in the health care system, where there are currently no federal protections. I'm not sure exactly how this would work in practice, especially since "sexual orientation" is not specifically distinguished in this non-discrimination clause, but we can all wish upon a star, I suppose.
Lastly, the bill specifically designates gay people as one of many minority "health disparities" populations. (I would have used a more attractive, less sterile phrase, but I'm not one of the 500 boring old white men who write laws.) This basically recognizes "significant gaps in the presence of disease, health outcomes and access to health care" for the LGBT population as compared to the general population. By virtue of this description, federal funding is now available for research on figuring out why such disparities exist, and how to prevent them.
Unsurprisingly, all of these pro-LGBT provisions included in the House version are conspicuously absent from the Senate version now being debated.
But despite this, it's a promising start. Since these provisions are solidified in the House version, it seems to guarantee us a place at the bargaining table when the House-Senate conference committee ultimately hammers out the bill's final version. This may seem like an awfully small space to pin our health care hopes on, but we should remember that Rome wasn't built in a day.
I'm usually not satisfied with the incremental-change theories espoused by so many older generations of gays, especially in something as fundamental as human rights. However, considering the heated debates surrounding this bill and the many compromising concessions made in the House's version (see: abortion rights), I'm thankful we weren't sold down the river like our pro-choice counterparts. I guess the spirit of the holiday season is softening my otherwise combative heart.
Kristin Lynch is a local writer and Indy contributor who enjoys Oprah, sensored traffic lights, and eggnog year-round. Visit her Web site, springstoaster.com, for local gay news and podcasts.
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