HHS Observes 'LGBT Health Awareness Week' Without Mentioning HIV/AIDS

By Susan Jones | March 27, 2012 | 11:45 AM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration has declared this to be "LGBT Health Awareness Week" -- a time to focus on the "unique" health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

But the five-paragraph announcement released by the Department of Health and Human Services on Monday makes no mention of HIV/AIDS, a disease that disproportionately affects the LGBT community.

"Studies have shown that health disparities related to sexual orientation and gender identity are due in part to lower rates of health coverage and a lack of cultural competency in the health care system," HHS says. "We know that members of the LGBT community may be more likely to be underinsured or uninsured, making the Affordable Care Act all the more important."

The HHS announcement touts the benefits of Obamacare for LGBT people, including coverage for pre-existing health conditions and allowing young people to remain on their parents' health plan until they turn 26.

The announcement also links to a long summary of "recommended actions" undertaken by HHS to improve the health and well-being of LGBT people.

The summary includes only one mention of AIDS -- noting that on July 13, 2010, the Obama administration announced its National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which is described as "a rigorous effort to increase access to care and lower the number of new HIV cases in the United States by 25 percent within the next five years."

Here are some of the other ways HHS says it plans to improve the "health and well-being" of LGBT people:

-- Later this year, the HealthCare.gov website -- a product of Obamacare -- will help LGBT consumers find health insurance policies available to them that include coverage of domestic partners.

-- HHS plans to increase the number of federally-funded health and demographic surveys that collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leading the effort to develop and test questions for those surveys.

-- HHS is continuing to evaluate how its programs can ensure equal treatment of LGBT families. For example, HHS says it will advise states and tribes that federal law allows them to treat LGBT couples the same way it treats heterosexual couples with respect to welfare programs.

-- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will notify states that they may provide same-sex domestic partners of long-term-care Medicaid beneficiaries the same treatment as opposite-sex spouses when it comes to estate recovery, imposition of liens, and transfer of assets. "This includes not seizing or imposing a lien on the home of a deceased beneficiary if the same-sex domestic partner still resides in the home. It also includes allowing Medicaid beneficiaries needing long-term care to transfer the title of a home to a same-sex domestic partner, allowing the partner to remain in the home."

-- HHS will encourage new and existing health training programs, including behavioral health programs (mental health, substance abuse, and HIV) 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 said. (Cultural competency generally describes the ability of health professionals to embrace diversity and work with people of different backgrounds and values.)

-- HHS will continue to address discrimination, harassment, and violence against all individuals, including LGBT individuals, through domestic violence and other violence prevention programs. This includes recognizing LGBT populations as underserved communities in grant announcements.

-- HHS will boost its focus on LGBT youth in all anti-bullying initiatives and make sure that states, schools, and the general public are aware of the resources available.

"For too long, LGBT people have been denied the compassionate services they deserve," HHS says. "That is now changing. HHS continues to make significant progress toward protecting the rights of every American to access quality care, recognizing that diverse populations have distinctive needs. Safeguarding the health and well-being of all Americans requires a commitment to treating all people with respect while being sensitive to their differences."