HHS makes push for more LGBT-related data and research

Kathleen Sebelius

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday, April 1, that it was making new recommendations for future action to “improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

The announcement came on the heels of a federally sponsored report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that identified “research gaps and opportunities” related to LGBT health. That report was released March 31.

It also came on the same day HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced 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.”

A lengthy press statement released by HHS Friday mostly reiterated actions HHS and the Obama administration taken have taken previously to improve the health and equal rights for LGBT people. For instance, it noted President Obama had called for new guidelines to require hospitals receiving federal funds to allow LGBT patients to designate who could visit them in the hospital.

Among the new actions announced, the press statement said that “later this year, HHS’s website devoted to the new health reform law, the Affordable Care Act (HealthCare.gov) would provide “additional information of specific relevance to LGBT popultions.”

“In particular,” noted the HHS statement, “the website will allow LGBT consumers to identity health insurance policies available to them that include coverage of domestic partners.”

The announcement said HHS would also work to increase:

  • the “number of federally funded health and demographic surveys that collect and report sexual orientation and gender identity data;”
  • “evaluate ways its programs can ensure equal treatment of LGBT families,” through such programs as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and others; and,
  • “encourage new and existing health profession training programs…to include LGBT cultural competency curricula.”

Human Rights Campaign  President Joe Solmonese applauded Sebelius’ announcement.

“Once  again, Secretary Sebelius has demonstrated a tremendous commitment to addressing the health needs of LGBT people,” said Solmonese. “The discrimination and inequality our community faces in health care is substantial, and there is so much more than must be done, but today’s recommendations—alongside the research roadmap provided in the IOM report—bring us closer to eliminating the barriers that harm the health and well-being of LGBT people and their families.”

The IOM report released March 31 was commission by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of HHS. The report recommended that NIH conduct more research to “advance knowledge and understanding of LGBT health” and that HHS surveys collect data “on sexual orientation and gender identity.” It also recommended “Data on sexual orientation and gender identity should be collected in electronic health records.

“Collecting these detailed patient-level data,” noted the IOM report, “with adequate privacy and security protection as is needed for all data collected in electronic health records, could assistn in identifying and addressing LGBT health disparities.”

The full IOM report can be read here.

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