Lost in Legislation

Over the past few months, headlines have focused on certain provisions within the new health care reform bill. Americans have been told that reforms will allow for 32 million uninsured Americans to be covered, will cost $940 billion dollars over 10 years, allow students to stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26 years old and will penalize all Americans without insurance by 2016. Yet, little attention has been paid to multiple provisions that were left out, including those that would affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) community.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), an openly gay woman, sought to include four pro-gay provisions in the original House of Representatives version of the health care reform bill. However, days before President Barack Obama signed the final version on March 22, all four provisions were left out.

According to Keen News Service, these provisions included a prohibition on discrimination in health care; the “Early Treatment for HIV Act,” that would have allowed states to provide Medicaid coverage to low-income Americans with HIV; the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, that would have eliminated a tax on gay employees whose partners were covered under their employer’s health insurance; and a provision to include the LGBTQ community in data inclusion.

Lance Ringel, president of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, called the removal of these provisions very unfortunate.

“I think if people were aware of this they would be very upset,” he said. “If important things were left out I would hope they would become priorities for political action.”

According to Ringel, data inclusion was the most important provision that was excluded. Sexual orientation and gender identity are often omitted from surveys, which he said leaves the LGBTQ community with no real way to improve its health.

“Number keeping matters,” he said. “People think it doesn’t but it makes a big difference on what kind of services you receive and points out where the gaps are.”

The lack of attention focused on the missing provisions may be overshadowed by the popularity of two bills Congress has yet to take a vote on, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). Both bills have made headway within the LGBTQ community and there has even been staging of peaceful acts of civil disobedience at the Capitol and the White House.

The LGBTQ community at the State University of New York at New Paltz is very active; two clubs on campus, the Queer Action Coalition (QAC) and Gender Awareness Movement Enacted by Students (GAMES), focus on issues affecting the community. Still, very few people were aware of the removed provisions.

Lisa Wojehowski, a first-year student and treasurer of QAC, is not surprised that these provisions fell through the cracks. She was also unaware that they ever existed.

“Nobody knows about these four [provisions] for the same reason that nobody knows about any of the others that are missing: there was no major chance that they would be included,” she said.

Wojehowski said that LGBTQ rights are often not a mainstream issue that most members of Congress care about, let alone support. She said that members of the LGBTQ community need to pay closer attention to issues that marginalize them more than they already are.

Patrick Martz, a second-year business major, said the lack of interest in the four missing provisions is because people generally do not know enough about the health care bill. He said Americans should take the time to do their own research rather than blindly believe incomplete information provided by the media.

“People need to take the initiative and research the bill on their own instead of relying on others’ perspectives,” he said. “Since the media tends to focus on certain topics and ignore others, the public winds up getting a very skewed image of what is involved with this legislation.”

Ringel said the spotlight has not been focused on what is missing for the LGBTQ community because a lot of people think ‘well, we passed health care,’ despite it not being perfect or even complete.

He said the way health care is handled in this country is problematic for some people, but he does acknowledge the positives in all of this.

“I do think we took a big step forward with the passing of the bill even with the things that were removed,” Ringel said. “It’s been a really exhausting process passing this bill and in the short term at least we are likely to see over 95 percent of Americans with health insurance.”

Getting specific items around health care to become political issues will be difficult this year because the bill was at the center of things for a long time. Ringel said debates surrounding the bill will most likely cool down for a while. Although he is optimistic, he insists this will be an uphill battle for the LGBTQ community.

Meghan Zanetich

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