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Healthcare Bill of Rights Empowers LGBTQ Patients
There is no single federal law that specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and many members of the LGBTQ community often face prejudice and hostility when interacting with healthcare workers.
The Healthcare Bill of Rights was put together by 46 national and regional organizations that promote LGBTQ interests and summarizes the legal rights and protections that members of the LGBTQ community are entitled to when seeking services in the American healthcare system.
In truth, medical practitioners cannot legally discriminate against anyone without violating the legal and ethical codes that govern the operation of their profession. The Healthcare Bill of Rights was designed to empower and inform LGBTQ patients, clearly outlining what they have a right to expect when dealing with doctors, nurses, administrators and health facility support staff. The full document is available for easy online downloading, and the wallet-sized version is being distributed at LGBTQ community centers across the United States. With a copy of this stirring declaration in their pockets, patients will be able to walk into clinics, hospitals and private medical practices knowing that the law is on their side—and feeling confident in their ability to prove it.
Six Inalienable Rights of LGBTQ Healthcare
The text of the document delineates six categories of protections that apply to any and all members of the LGBTQ community seeking medical treatment. These include the right to:
- Be treated with equality and respect in every circumstance.
- Affirm a chosen gender identity without question or comment.
- Designate who will be empowered to make decisions should the patient’s ability to do so be compromised (this is called an advanced directive).
- Approve or reject potential visitors without being overruled.
- Preserve the sanctity and privacy of all medical records, as prescribed by the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
- Hire legal representation and receive a fair hearing if rejected for treatment or prematurely discharged from a medical facility.
Since the Healthcare Bill of Rights was issued in late 2014, its sponsors have been surprised at the outpouring of gratitude and affirmation they have received. Countless numbers of LGBTQ men and women have credited the Bill of Rights with educating them and helping them realize that a new era in healthcare really has dawned.
Studies show that 30 percent to 40 percent of LGBTQ individuals have refused to seek needed healthcare services at one time or another, fearing rejection, discrimination and public exposure. Transgender people in particular tend to avoid medical facilities, believing that neither their privacy nor their gender identity preferences will be respected.
But the Healthcare Bill of Rights is helpful because it is so specific and detailed. Most importantly, its assertions are backed by legal precedence. Rules established by the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Joint Commission (the body that grants accreditation to all medical institutions), the Department of Health and Human Services and various state and local Offices of Civil Rights/Human Rights combine to give the document a solid grounding in fact.
Securing the Best in Healthcare for All
As the opening paragraph of the Healthcare Bill of Rights states:
“Your personal life and relationships affect your health more than you realize, so your doctor and other providers need to know your story. We should all feel safe talking about our sexual partners, sex lives, sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity.”
In reality, members of the LGBTQ community are free to discuss all of these matters with medical professionals, and if they ever meet resistance while doing so, the fault is not theirs.
Perhaps a unifying federal law will eventually be passed that establishes universal equal rights in healthcare. But if this happens, it will be merely a formality; those rights already exist and are grounded in established law. Discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in healthcare environments should not be tolerated, and the people behind the creation of the Healthcare Bill of Rights are doing everything in their power to see that such bigotry is confined to the past.