By: Felicia Wulandari
In the midst of Pride celebrations, President Biden signed an executive order extending protection and rights to LGBTQ+ communities. Included in the executive order are several policies that touched on healthcare matters, such as confirming that federal funds cannot be used to cover conversion therapy and ordering HHS to collaborate with states in protecting queer communities’ access to quality, affordable, comprehensive health care.
The announcement comes months after news that several Republic-led legislatures are actively working to ban youth access to gender-affirming treatments. While the executive order will empower federal agencies to counteract these measures, it is important to keep in mind that rules and regulations take time to implement. Research by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation also points to one key trend: that even with federal level actions such as the Affordable Care Act, healthcare discrimination among LGBTQ+ individuals remain rife. According to a survey by the Center for American Progress, 25% of queer individuals have experienced some form of discrimination from a healthcare provider. In addition, almost 30% of transgender individuals have been turned away by a doctor due to their gender identity.
Discriminatory practices, or even the possibility of discrimination, discourages members of the LGBTQ+ community from seeking healthcare. It discourages queer patients from disclosing information on their sexual orientation and gender identity, which could then lead to inadequate services. Bias against LGBTQ+ people are partly to blame, but part of the other blame also lies on lack of cultural competency. Medical schools have only just begun including LGBTQ training as part of their curriculum, and while substantial cultural change is not impossible, it is likely to occur slowly.
Aside from discrimination, the executive order has yet to address other important healthcare barriers such as insurance coverage disparity. Compared to non-queer individuals, LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to delay getting access to healthcare due to high expenses. Most insurance programs still do not cover services that cater to the needs of queer communities, so patients usually have to go out-of-pocket to get plastic surgery and other gender-affirming care.
Both the government and the private sector will need to work together to ensure that true strides are made. Healthcare networks can create their own LGBTQ+ specific program to ensure that they provide services that truly serve the needs of queer communities. On the other hand, Biden will need to go beyond executive orders but also call for congressional support to ensure that such protection is permanent. The Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe vs Wade exemplifies the consequence of not codifying rights into law. The legislative body will need to take a more aggressive stance on contentious matters – particularly those at risk of being overruled by future lawmakers and executive leaders.