An effort to educate and raise awareness among LGBT people about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, begins in earnest next month when the law goes into effect.
A new program, Out 2 Enroll, will be unveiled Oct. 11 on National Coming Out Day ― which also happens to be the weekend of Atlanta Pride ― via its website at www.out2enroll.org and will be a resource for LGBT seeking help in maneuvering the new law during open enrollment.
The ACA sets up online marketplaces, also known as exchanges, for people to study and then buy insurance from. Out 2 Enroll is a collaboration between the Sellers Dorsey Foundation, the Center for American Progress and the Federal Agencies Project and was discussed at a recent White House briefing where several Atlanta LGBT advocates were invited to attend to learn more about the Affordable Care Act.
Monica Simpson, a lesbian, is the executive director of Sister Song, a reproductive justice organization. She attended the White House briefing on Sept. 12 featuring Secretary of Health and Human Service Kathleen Sebelius. Simpson said her organization is focused on ensuring women become patient activists as well as finding ways to break down the walls of health care disparities, especially among people of color.
“We have our questions like everyone does,” she said. “People are really confused. It’s hard for us to even understand. It’s a new language for folks, especially when you are talking about communities of color. We have a different connection to what we call the medical industry complex. We want to try to make things culturally competent and linguistically competent.”
As part of Obamacare, “navigators” will help those during the six month enrollment period that begins Oct. 1 find the plan that best fits their needs. In January, health care exchanges and the individual mandate under the law are scheduled to begin. This will also be the time when insurers will not be able to discriminate against or charge higher rates for individuals based on pre-existing medical conditions or gender, such as HIV.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality and who also attended the White House briefing, said the Health Initiative and Phillip Rush Center in Atlanta received enough federal funding to hire one full-time navigator and two part-time navigators to help LGBT people in Georgia seek and purchase the plans best for their needs.
“Our navigator program will be running in early October. The open enrollment starts Oct. 1 and goes for six months. By early November we will have a good analysis of the plans and specifically for those with HIV,” Graham said. “We want people to be really aware about enrollment but understand it will take us a few weeks to fully analyze what is available especially since the Insurance Commissioner has not released the details to the public yet.”
Out 2 Enroll not putting a ‘rainbow flag’ on ACA
Kellan Baker, associate director for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said Out 2 Enroll is not about “putting a rainbow flag” on the Affordable Care Act.
“We commissioned research of the experiences of LGBT people living under 400 percent of poverty level. The results were striking,” he said. “There is an additional layer of skepticism, LGBT people and especially transgender people said they faced discrimination, and people reported having trouble with getting their partner and kids covered through their job.”
The Out 2 Enroll study of eight focus groups and a July national survey of 867 LGBT people living less than 400 percent under the Federal Poverty Level (guidelines state an individual making $3,351 a year is 350 percent under the FDL) showed these findings:
• 1 in 3 LGBT Americans do not have health insurance.
• 71 percent do not know about possible new coverage options.
• 1 in 3 respondents in a same-sex relationship tried to get coverage for a partner through an employer plan.
• Of those who tried, 50 percent had trouble getting partner coverage and 72 percent felt discriminated against during the process.
• Transgender people face frequent and significant discrimination in the form of transgender-specific insurance exclusions.
• 67 percent of LGBT respondents have been without coverage for more two or more years.
• 48 percent of LGBT people surveyed in the South do not have health insurance.
“We did focus groups with transgender people and we had tremendous difficulty because their experiences of being excluded and disenfranchisement is so overwhelming,” Baker said.
Simpson of Sister Song said she was honored to be invited to the White House, but was surprised by the lack of representation of people of color ― especially since people of color, especially LGBT people of color ― face significant barriers obtaining health care.
“People were talking about the lack of healthcare but again there is this whole notion that those in need are overwhelmingly people of color. And they are saying this from the podium. Yet all the people talking about this were not people of color,” she said.
No Medicaid expansion in Ga.
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. A key provision of the law was its promise to fully fund Medicaid programs in all states for three years and then decrease funding after that. Medicaid is the federal government health program for low income individuals and families.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012, however, that states could refuse the expansion and many states in the South, including Georgia, did so. In Georgia, one in five people has no health insurance, according to recent analysis of Census data.
Graham said Georgia Equality is part of a coalition that is pushing for Gov. Nathan Deal to change his mind and accept the Medicaid expansion. Deal has said many times he would not expand Medicaid because it would eventually cost the state too much money.
Without the Medicaid expansion, some low-income people will be eligible for subsidies from the government to buy health insurance. But others, including LGBT people with HIV/AIDS, are likely to have no options available to them, said Baker.
Baker also stressed that there is time for people to review options and it is important not to purchase something right away. With open enrollment beginning Oct. 1 and six months to buy, there is time to consider options carefully, he said.
“We will have time to figure out options,” he said. “What have we found is the No. 1 one most trusted messengers for LGBT people are friends and family members. This is a community-sourced effort.”
Health Initiative, Georgia Equality team up
On Oct. 1 the Health Initiative that serves LGBTQ people in Georgia launched the Open Enrollment Online Resource Center via www.TheHealthInitiative.org.
This virtual center will provide:
• Answers to frequently asked questions
• Tips for preparing to use the Health Insurance Marketplace
• General information about Open Enrollment
• Listings for free community education events • Reservation form to set an appointment with a Marketplace Navigator • Direct links to begin enrollment A series of community education and enrollment events across the state sponsored by Georgia Equality and the Health Initative is also planned after Atlanta Pride weekend, Oct. 12-13.