Fighting Discrimination in Healthcare
Even in the current crisis, the vital work you make possible is moving forward.
Check out this update from Bennett Klein, GLAD’s Senior Attorney and AIDS Law Project Director, about current work to advance access to affirming and life-saving care.
Our fight to ensure fair and equitable access to healthcare has always been a priority for GLAD. This epidemic is uncovering critical gaps in care – and compounding issues that already vulnerable communities, including the LGBTQ community faced before the crisis began.
We wanted you to have more insight into our ongoing work to ensure each of us has the vital access to treatment that we deserve.
Hello, I’m Ben Klein. As a lawyer and AIDS Law Project Director at GLAD, I appreciate this opportunity to give you some insight into GLAD’s current work to ensure that LGBTQ people can access critical healthcare.
And as a guy who thinks a yellow legal pad and a pen is pretty much all that he needs, I have had to get up to speed on technology that others embraced years ago. So, from my screen to your screen, thanks for watching.
Before I say anything else, I want to thank you. Without you, none of GLAD’s work would be possible. I know I speak for our entire staff when I say – we’re grateful to have you on our side and part of the GLAD community in the fight for justice.
Personally, I have been thinking a lot about community as we all face the current public health crisis. I have reflected on my own search for community when I came out in 1979 and how in those years, we, all of us, built that community together from the ground up.
And then when the AIDS epidemic hit just a few years later, our community became more important than ever. When gay people were dying because no one with power seemed to care, we could not count on the government to take care of us or the legal system to protect us. We had to take care of each other. And when the politicians ignored our plight because we were a marginalized – in fact, despised – group, our community fought for faster drug development that saved lives. We built organizations and brought together volunteers that provided everything from housing and meals to financial help for people who could no longer work.
And we, as GLAD lawyers, fought rampant discrimination in access to healthcare, a battle GLAD has been fighting since it was founded.
22 years ago last month a very nervous younger version of me argued the first case heard by the United States Supreme Court under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In that case, GLAD successfully sued a dentist who refused to treat a patient with HIV. The case established nationwide protections against discrimination and marked the beginning of our being able to push back hard against medical providers who denied our humanity throughout the AIDS crisis and beyond.
Just a few years later, GLAD attorney and Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi argued and won one of the first cases in the country challenging the denial of health care to a transgender person.
Since then we’ve had groundbreaking victories and seen tremendous progress, but LGBTQ people continue to face significant barriers to healthcare. And the problem is worse if you are a person of color or lower income. Stigma, stereotypes and ignorance get in the way of people getting the health care they need.
And today, with all of you, the fight for justice in health care continues.
1) First, we are working to ensure that all people who want and need HIV PrEP can obtain it. PrEP is a drug that can prevent HIV transmission. It’s one of the most important breakthroughs in the fight against HIV that offers hope of ending the HIV epidemic.
PrEP is straightforward and well-established; It is much less complex than other commonly-prescribed drugs. But because of stigma and misunderstanding, PrEP has been vastly under-prescribed, especially among gay men of color. Too many primary care doctors won’t prescribe it because of bias around gay sex and even HIV itself.
In January, we filed a lawsuit against a doctor whose patient contracted HIV after being denied a prescription for PrEP. Now, if there were a drug this simple that reduced the risk of disease in heterosexual people by almost 100%, do you think the doctor would have acted the same way? I don’t think so. We filed this lawsuit so that we can change physician practice and ensure that PrEP is available to all who need it.
2) You’re also allowing us to keep up the fight for transgender healthcare.
We continue to see denials of healthcare based on stereotypes and ignorance about transgender people and essential treatment for gender dysphoria. Many health plans, for example, continue to wrongly exclude coverage for particular and critical treatments like facial feminizing surgeries. These exclusions are archaic and totally out of step with medical and scientific standards.
For many transgender people, surgeries such as facial feminization are critical to successfully transitioning and living full, healthy and productive lives. That’s why in Connecticut we just filed briefing and medical testimony at the state human rights commission on behalf of a public employee whose municipal health benefits plan wrongly denies coverage for her basic medical needs. If this case is successful, it will be the first decision in the country recognizing the discrimination inherent in denying facial feminization surgery.
3) We are also in federal court right now seeking to end another major obstacle to healthcare for transgender people. A growing number of states – through legislation or regulation- now prevent private and public insurers from offering plans that exclude all transition-related care. But those insurance laws don’t apply to some of our country’s largest employers – because they fund their own employee health benefits, rather than offering outside traditional insurance plans to employees.
We are suing one of these companies on behalf of Alexander Pangborn, a hospice nurse whose employer has a blanket exclusion of any health care for gender transition. This case is big. We’re fighting for Alexander, but we’re also telling employers: Funding their own plans doesn’t give them the right to discriminate. And, a special thank you to Alexander and all of the healthcare workers who, like him are on the frontlines of the current public health crisis.
Each of these fights for healthcare coverage started before the COVID-19 crisis. And as we respond to needs from this current emergency, we’re doing everything in our power to ensure the mission you believe in continues uninterrupted.
I hope that the lessons our community learned decades ago inspires us to address the critical gaps this crisis is laying bare and to create real security for everyone.
Your support, especially in this moment of upheaval, shows your commitment to removing the health care barriers that still remain, especially for the most vulnerable in our community. And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
If you want to know what else we’re doing, you’ll find that latest news up on our website, GLAD.org. And as always, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me or anyone at GLAD with any questions, comments or concerns you have. We’re always happy to hear from you. Thank you again.