HHS Secretary Sebelius Announces LGBT Activities

During a national conference call with LGBT stakeholders today, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a series of past, current and future actions to better address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Among the actions announced today:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Policy – Earlier this month, Secretary Sebelius updated HHS’s equal employment opportunity policy, which already prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, to explicitly protect against unfair treatment of employees and applicants for employment based on gender identity and genetic information.
  • Non-discrimination Policy – Today, on April 1, 2011, the Secretary issued a new policy explicitly requiring HHS employees to serve all individuals who are eligible for the Department’s programs without regard to any non-merit factor, including race, national origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability (physical or mental), age, status as a parent, or genetic information.
  • Hospital Visitation and Advance Directives – An April 2010 Presidential Memorandum directed HHS to initiate rulemaking to ensure that hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid payments respect the rights of patients to designate visitors, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other non-clinical factor.  On November 17, 2010, HHS issued the final rule affirming those rights.   The Presidential Memorandum also called for new guidelines to facilitate hospitals’ compliance with existing regulations allowing patients to designate who they want to make medical decisions on their behalf through advance directives. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is on track to issue these guidelines in the coming months.
  • Data Collection – The Department will continue to work toward increasing the number of federally-funded health and demographic surveys that collect and report sexual orientation and gender identity data, consistent with the President’s support for evidence-based policies. In collaboration with other agencies throughout HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leading an effort to develop and test questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health is also reviewing existing LGBT data and will generate baselines and targets addressing LGBT health disparities through the Healthy People 2020 initiative. This process will include meetings with LGBT data experts and stakeholders to provide transparency and opportunities for input.
  • Expanded Health Insurance Coverage – Later this year, HealthCare.gov, HHS’s innovative new on-line tool called for by the Affordable Care Act, will provide additional information of specific relevance to LGBT populations. In particular, the website will allow LGBT consumers to identify health insurance policies available to them that include coverage of domestic partners.
  • Training for Health Providers – HHS will encourage new and existing health profession training programs, including behavioral health (e.g. mental health, substance abuse, and HIV) programs, to include LGBT cultural competency curricula. The lack of culturally competent providers is a significant barrier to quality health care for many LGBT people, particularly those who identify as transgender. HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration will also convene professional groups that represent LGBT health providers and students to identify challenges and opportunities for training LGBT providers and to isolate strategies geared toward increasing culturally competent care for LGBT patients. In consultation with LGBT communities, HHS will develop cultural competency goals and promote the use of cultural competency curricula inclusive of LGBT populations in future grants guidance. Moreover, to improve the capacity of practitioners in addressing behavioral health needs, HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will utilize existing federal and national training and technical assistance networks to support the adoption of behavioral health training materials.

In addition, the Secretary noted several other past actions which explicitly address the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, including inclusion in goals for Healthy People 2020 as well as this week’s Institute of Medicine report on improving research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health.  Most significant is the continuation of the high-level HHS Internal LGBT Coordinating Committee,  co-chaired by Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, and Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families David Hansell, with senior representatives from each operating and staff division of the Department. The committee will continue to oversee and produce an annual report on the Department’s key accomplishments and upcoming initiatives on LGBT-related policies and the consideration of LGBT concerns throughout HHS’s activities.

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