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September 23, 2013 // By Steve Graff // Comments

Penn Doctor Heads to White House for Affordable Care Act Awareness Event with Sec. of Health Sebelius

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One of the biggest changes toPhoto the health care system is here: the individual mandate. Millions of uninsured or underinsured can now go online or talk to certified application counselors to find insurance, see if they are eligible for federal help and buy coverage. 

But with this new rollout—and perhaps the key to successfully signing people up—comes education about its existence and the details of coverage. What’s a mandate? Will they discriminate against me? What am I eligible for? Will they take me if I am already sick? Can I afford this?

Millions of dollars and a lot of energy have been spent educating the groups who need this information the most, and last week at the White House, attention was shifted to another, and often overlooked, group: the LGBT community, where substantial health disparities exist and one in three low- income people are uninsured. Also, only 64 percent knew that the mandate was coming in October and 71 percent have not heard about the new coverage options, a recent report sanctioned by the White House found.

To address this issue and offer guidance on outreach efforts, the White House gathered advocacy groups, community leaders, human rights and LGBT organizations, politicians, and health care providers, including Penn’s Baligh Yehia, MD, MPP, MSHP an infectious disease specialist who is spearheading the creation of the Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health, with funding from the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the Provost’s Excellence Through Diversity Fund.

“The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be particularly transformative for many members of the LGBT community, who have often struggled to find adequate health insurance coverage,” said Dr. Yehia.  “Philadelphia has one of the largest populations of LGBT people in the country. As a provider, it’s going to be important to get out into the community and work with individuals who need access to care and help guide them through the process.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius led the briefing, and was joined by The Center for American Progress, the Sellers Dorsey Foundation and the Federal Agencies Project, who jointly announced the launch of Out2Enroll, a campaign to inform LGBT communities about new coverage options available through the ACA and to encourage LGBT individuals to enroll.

“You are the leaders across this country who can reach out to your friends, and your neighbors, and your colleagues in the LGBT community and make sure they know what is about to happen,” Sec. Sebelius said last week at the briefing.

Photo 1But the new mandate will impact all kinds of patients. Quick facts about the ACA and the individual mandate:
Prevents insurance companies from denying or charging a higher premium because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Can’t deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, like HIV, cancer, mental health and substance abuse.
  • There is financial help available to those who qualify
  • No lifetime limit on insurance policy; you can’t be locked out of policy.

The new coverage options, Dr. Yehia said, will hopefully help break down some of the barriers for the LGBT community and help get people the care they need, when they need it.

“In spite of the fact that we have a law and in spite of the fact that people are entitled to benefits, unless they know how to connect with the new benefits, all of this is just paper,”  Sec. Sebelius said. “Our job between now and March 31, 2014 is to get people information about how to actually engage in this process.”

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