Closing the Healthcare Gap for LGBTQ Patients

2290120626_0c9d955dae_zSo far, this column has been geared mostly toward women’s health. But lately, I’ve been seeing more and more articles in the media about LGBTQ health. We all know that seeing your doctor for whatever reason can be a bit of a pain. But for members of the LGBTQ community, it is more than just a hassle. It is apparent that America’s health care system is desperately subpar when it comes to serving queer, transgender, and gender nonconforming people.

America has made some recent positive strides with regard to LGBTQ rights. There are now a number of laws protecting people from discrimination in the workplace and other places because of their sexual orientation or gender. Also, 15 states now afford queer couples a few of the same rights as heterosexual couples. Despite the legal progress, though, America still lacks adequate provision of comprehensive healthcare for members of the LGBTQ community.

There are staggering statistics out there that show the need for more healthcare options designed specifically for LGBTQ people. The Center for Disease Control has a helpful site that examines different health issues for a number of populations, including gay and bisexual men and women, LGBT youth, and transgender individuals. Research shows that groups in the LGBTQ community can have higher BMIs, are more prone to contracting STIs, are less likely to use preventative measures for cancers, and overall are less likely to have health insurance.

One of the biggest issues that I believe leads to these disparities in healthcare is our lack of assessment of the needs of the LGBTQ population in the U.S. After looking through many different trusted sites for statistics, I realized the majority of the data are estimations and vague statements. This is because it is rare to find surveys, questionnaires, or studies conducted on general health that include questions regarding non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people. It is impossible to address LGBTQ health issues when our healthcare system isn’t trying to learn more about them in the first place.

Another often insurmountable obstacle for LGBTQ people is access to adequate health insurance. Many employers do not provide health coverage for unmarried couples. And even if someone does have health insurance, it may not always cover the necessary care they need. For instance, often insurance won’t cover hormone treatments for transgender individuals, or won’t cover a procedure that doesn’t “fit” with the gender on their insurance card (e.g., a pap smear for a trans man with an intact cervix). Knowing these legal barriers exist frequently discourages LGBTQ people from attempting to get adequate care at all.

According to the National Cancer Network, medical students spend about 5 hours total on LGBTQ-related issues throughout their entire schooling. That fact in itself is alarming and inexcusable. I spoke with Julia Keleher, the Director of the LGBTQA Office and Programs at the University of Idaho, and she explained to me that LGBTQ people frequently encounter refusal of services and discriminatory behavior when trying to access healthcare. Poor health care for the LGBTQ community in America is obviously a complex combination of many different factors. Whatever the reason for any individual’s challenges to accessing comprehensive, quality health care, it is a broader issue of justice and equality that needs to be addressed by our government immediately.

In my research, I came across a few recommendations and a glimmer of hope for the future. What we really need is increased data collection and research of health disparities for LGBTQ people. We need better education and more in-depth training about LGBTQ specific health issues for those entering the medical field. We need health insurance reform, so that coverage is not exclusive of a single population and its needs. I also think we could benefit from a greater variety of shared resources, where individuals can find positive, quality care in their area. I recently came across a website/app that does just this, called MyTransHealth. We also can’t get too discouraged or disheartened about these issues—we need to keep pointing out the inequities in our country and doing all we can to improve them as soon as possible. For a great read and more about closing the health care gap for the LGBTQ community, and people of different races and ethnicities, check out this article from the Center for American Progress.

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