The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Is Health Care a Gay Issue?

I don’t remember where I heard it, but it’s something a core belief of mine: Freedom and liberty are meaningless concepts without two things—knowledge of them and the ability to act on them. To my mind, the former is basically education, and the latter means health care. I’ve come to believe that a country that can’t provide those two basic things to its citizens can’t have more than a tenuous grasp on the two concepts above.

I’ve wanted to write about health care for some time, but until recently hadn’t taken the opportunity. I ventured down that road with an earlier post. Now I have a post up on the blog at the day-job, about a health care plan the organization is promoting, that would—if everything adds up as it’s supposed to—guarantee coverage to almost every American.

Given what I said about that core belief of mine, the idea of universal or near-universal health care is something I’m passionate about for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that believe it’s criminal that—in a country as wealthy as ours—there are millions of children without health insurance. But lately I’ve become passionate about for another reason, and one raises a question for me.

Is health care a gay issue? I don’t know that it’s a priority for any of our political organizations, but I’m starting to believe that it should be.

The reason is because as I read the plan, something jumped out at me.

At a stroke, then, no one with a direct or family tie to the workforce would remain uninsured.

…For the small share of people without direct or family ties to the workforce and ineligible for Medicaid, S-CHIP, or Medicare, the Health Care for America Plan would be available as an attractive new coverage option. Premiums would again be based on income, ranging from no premium in the case of those with incomes below the poverty line to the average actuarial cost of coverage for all enrollees in Health Care for America in the case of those with incomes above 400% of the poverty level. In other words, Health Care for America would allow higher-income individuals without workplace ties to buy into the program for a premium that did not vary with age, region, or health status (a so-called community-rated premium).

Meanwhile, Americans without ties to the workforce would be enrolled in the Health Care for America Plan through an individual buy-in, through state antipoverty and un-employment insurance programs, or through new efforts to reach the uninsured when they sought medical care without insurance.

Not a perfect solution, but as a married-without-benefits gay man, it was significant to read the phrase “people without direct or family ties to the workforce,” because of how it would apply to same-sex couples. As in most states we cannot legally have the same family ties to one another as heterosexual couples can through marriage, and in states like Colorado legal relationships like domestic partnership are under attack, and in states like Michigan health benefits for domestic partners are under attack. In some workplaces you can get health care benefits for your pet but not your (human) same-sex partner. Sometimes, it means that our children don’t have health care.

Universal, or even near-universal health car would—at least it seems to me—take care of one of the major issues under the marriage umbrella, solving one problem that same-sex couples face, and without regard to marital status. One of the concerns that comes up regularly in the discussion about marriage and whether it should be a primary focus of the LGBT community and its organizations, rather than focusing on issues under the marriage umbrella and detaching them from the question of marital status.

Earlier this month, in a Southern Voice article Voice article, Jasmyne Cannick criticized gay and lesbian organizations as “nowhere to be found on bread-and-butter issues” that concern black gays and lesbians. Of course, like any organization, gay organizations face having to constantly balance their efforts with their resources, and deciding where to spend those resources without diluting their effectiveness and while retaining the support of their members. I imagine health care is one issue that, detached from marriage, might make the top ten list of concerns for Cannick and others LGBT activists.

But on a similar vein, I’ve wondered if there’s a reason why we haven’t seen more organizations taking public stands on health care. It may be that some organizations want to at least maintain the appearance of nonpartisanship or bipartisanship. (The health plans proposed by the remaining Democratic presidential candidates is very similar to the one above.) While we wait for marriage equality, though, maybe it would be an effective strategy to break out some of the issues that are a part of the the marriage equality debate—from health care to the economy, and perhaps even foreign policy—and advocating for equality when those issues are debated and legislated, alongside advocacy efforts on same-sex marriage.

We may, on the way to marriage, achieve equality in a number of areas that touch the lives of LGBT Americans whether they’re married or not, or ever even want to be.

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