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N.C. insurer drops gay, lesbian couples

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s biggest health insurer, has canceled family insurance policies it sold last month to gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina under the Affordable Care Act, the Charlotte News Observer reports.

Blue Cross, Blue Shield, health, gay news, Washington Blade, North Carolina

Blue Cross and Blue Shield canceled family insurance policies it sold last month to gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina.

The insurer canceled policies of 20 couples — some who were legally married in states that recognize gay marriage — and encouraged them to reapply for separate insurance policies as unmarried individuals. The couples received calls from Blue Cross in mid-January, several weeks after they purchased their family health insurance, and were told their family coverage was invalid, the article said.

Blue Cross’ strategy has stung same-sex couples and gay-rights advocates because the nonprofit insurer offers domestic partner benefits to its own employees. Blue Cross insurance plans offered by large companies in North Carolina also include health benefits for employees and their same-sex partner, the News Observer said.

The problem is traced to terminology in Blue Cross policies that define “spouse” as “opposite sex.” North Carolina insurance law does not prohibit selling coverage to gay couples, but Blue Cross was legally bound by the restrictive contract language in its individual plans, said Kerry Hall, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Insurance.

Blue Cross has vowed to update the language in 2015.

29
Jan
2014

Md. clarifies non-bias rules for trans patients

transgender, caduceus, medicare, gay news, Washington Blade, health, insurance

(Image public domain)

The Maryland Insurance Administration issued a bulletin on Jan. 27 indicating that insurance carriers cannot discriminate against transgender individuals in the state based on gender identity.  The purpose of the bulletin was to clarify the scope of the exclusion in the benchmark plan selected to define essential health benefits in Maryland as required by the Affordable Care Act for “treatment leading to or in connection with transsexualism, or sex changes or modifications, including but not limited to surgery.”

In other words, insurers cannot discriminate against transgender individuals under a health benefit plan on the basis of the insured’s actual or perceived gender identity for ordinary medical care but “the exclusion should be narrowly applied to items and services that are directly related to the gender reassignment process.”

The announcement was questioned by some members of the LGBT community on social media. “So this says that it is OK to discriminate against a transgender person if their medical need is transitioning,” wrote one woman who identified as trans on Facebook. “That doesn’t mean just surgery, which is relatively costly, but also allows discrimination regarding hormone therapy, which is the cost of scribbling a script and the cost of hormones, which in some cases is as little as five dollars at Walmart or CVS. All this really says is that they can’t discriminate against a transperson who has, say, high blood pressure or diabetes.”

Equality Maryland responded, “The bulletin is a first step in clarifying that transgender people in Maryland must have access to coverage and the medically necessary care they need. Further steps must be taken to ensure that Maryland law extends full and equal access for transgender people to coverage and care, including coverage for transition-related procedures and any other services that are covered for non-transgender people.”

07
Feb
2014

Time for a new employee manual

manual, gay news, Washington Blade

A review of existing employment manuals is especially important when there are significant changes in the laws governing the employer/employee relationship.

By JOHN J. MATTEO

The beginning of the New Year is always a good time for companies and employers to review their existing employee manuals or employment policies to insure they are compliant with current law and with their own practices.  An old adage states that the only thing worse than not having an employment manual or written policies is to have them but not follow them. This adage reflects the need to insure that your policies comport with your company’s actual practices and that such practices are consistent with applicable law.

A review of existing employment manuals is especially important when there are significant changes in the laws governing the employer/employee relationship, as we have seen in 2013. These include the Windsor decision issued by the Supreme Court that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the implementation of some portions of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the push for mandatory sick leave by some jurisdictions, the IRS’s continued focus on properly classifying employees v. independent contractors, and the EEOC’s stated strategic goal of focusing on workplace discrimination. Any one of these issues would require a revision to most employer’s policies and manuals, but together they call for a complete revamping and review of the way policies are formed and enforced by most employers.

D.C. employers have been used to protecting gay employees from discrimination given the D.C. Human Rights Act; however, employers in Maryland and Virginia have not had a state law with the same level of protections, although Maryland has moved in that direction. Given the Windsor decision and subsequent IRS guidance, gay couples that are lawfully married in a state or jurisdiction recognizing such unions may avail themselves of the same rights as heterosexual couples when filing their tax returns. The effect on employers in the region (where two of the three major jurisdictions recognize gay marriage) is that they cannot deny certain benefits to gay employees who are legally married. Employers should be sure that these protections are clearly set forth in their employment manuals.

Much has and will continue to be written about the ACA as its provisions are implemented but employers – especially smaller employers/companies need to be prepared. The most important lesson at this juncture is that employers with fewer than 100 employees need to begin to prepare their workers for the changes that have now been delayed until 2015. This will include mandatory participation in the local health care exchanges, as well as mandatory minimum benefits that must be provided by almost all employers.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued public statements that are clear — elimination of workplace discrimination will be one of the major focuses of the commission. Accordingly, employers need to be well trained on the EEOC standards so that business owners and managers can insure adherence to EEOC rules and regulations. These standards should also be well described in the company’s employment manual and procedures so that the company has guidance, employees know their rights and if a complaint is made both parties will know the process to follow.

Another important feature that should be clearly set forth in employment manuals or procedure policies given the EEOC’s stated goals, are the rights afforded to those seeking maternity, paternity and other family leave benefits. Depending on which local jurisdiction a company is situated in and how many employees are employed, the laws will differ. It is important for the employer to know these rules, to clearly state the company policy in the manual and most importantly to consistently apply them to all employees.

These are just a few highlights of provisions that employers should make sure are part of their employment manuals or policies and are some of the most important given recent EEOC statements. Other provisions that also should be clearly defined are policies related to full time/part time distinctions, Internet use and privacy, confidentiality, termination procedures and severance benefits.

In sum, the lessons are simple — employers should be educated by a professional on the myriad laws governing the employer/employee relationship and should seek out qualified advisers to assist them in drafting consistent policy manuals to avoid the risk of employment claims.

 

John J. Matteo is president and chair, Business & Employment Practice Groups, Jackson & Campbell, P.C.

This is part of a series of articles by Jackson & Campbell on legal issues of interest to the LBGT and greater business community.  Jackson & Campbell is a full service law firm based in Washington with offices in Maryland and Virginia. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact John J. Matteo at 202-457-1678 or jmatteo@jackscamp.com. If you have any questions regarding our firm, please contact Don Uttrich, who chairs our Diversity Committee, at 202-457-4266 or duttrich@jackscamp.com.

28
Feb
2014

HHS backs gay couples, HIV/AIDS patients

Barack Obama, Global AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

Married gay couples will be eligible for a family health policy under President Obama’s health care reform law. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

WASHINGTON — Married gay couples will be eligible for a family health policy under President Obama’s health care reform law, beginning in 2015, the U.S. government said on March 14, Reuters and other media outlets reported. Insurers were encouraged to begin offering coverage this year, the article said.

HHS exercised federal authority to prevent discriminatory insurance market practices on an issue that has been caught up in state marriage laws.

The move follows a February lawsuit filed by an Ohio gay couple that was unable to obtain family coverage under Obamacare, they said, because their state does not recognize same-sex marriage, Reuters said.

“If an insurance company offers coverage to opposite-sex spouses, it cannot choose to deny that coverage to same-sex spouses,” Dr. Matthew Heinz, who heads HHS outreach to LGBT communities, said in a posting to a government website.

The HHS also said insurers cannot turn down HIV/AIDS patients whose premiums are being paid through the federal Ryan White program, the AP reports.

19
Mar
2014

Only 8% of Republicans say contraceptive use is “morally unacceptable”

PEW found Republicans and Democrats both oppose adultery, while GOP opposed being gay by only a slight majority.

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16
Apr
2014

Study finds LGBT health care improving

LGBT Health, gay news, Washington Blade, health care, improving

(Public domain image)

WASHINGTON — A new report finds that things are improving for LGBT people because of better access to health care, Benefitspro.com, a Summit Professional Network publication, reports.

Citing a new study called “Health and Access to Care and Coverage for LGBT Individuals in the U.S.” from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the site reports findings that say that while LGBT people still tend to have more physical and mental health challenges than their straight counterparts, their needs are being increasingly recognized and met.

Researchers evaluated data from the U.S. Census Bureau, various state agencies, the Institute of Medicine, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Centers for Disease Control and more to issue the report. Recent factors such as the Affordable Care Act’s implementation and the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling were also considered, the article said.

The report credits the Affordable Care Act and the rejection of DOMA with “reshaping the health care and coverage landscape for (LGBT) individuals and their families.”

15
Jan
2014

Chase Brexton relocates, expands services

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Chase Brexton Health, Baltimore, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke and helped cut the ribbon at Chase Brexton’s opening last week. (Photo by Daniel McGarrity Photography)

On a comfortable, sunny morning last week, Baltimore City leaders, Chase Brexton officials and supporters as well as a marching band were on hand to officially open Chase Brexton Health Care’s new primary care facility in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood.  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Chase Brexton Health Care CEO Richard Larison were among those who offered remarks and cut the ribbon for the grand opening.

The new facility in the former Monumental Life building at 1111 N. Charles St. will allow Chase Brexton, a nonprofit provider, to expand its services. The Mount Vernon Center sees about 9,000 patients annually; the new Center will allow for more than doubling that number to about 25,000 based on projections. It features a patient-centered “pod” design and space for new obstetrics/gynecology services.

“Beginning in just a few months, hundreds of thousands of uninsured Marylanders will have access to new health insurance options through the Affordable Care Act,” Larison said. “We look forward to meeting increasing demand and educating patients with the same compassionate care we’ve provided for 35 years.”

As part of this expansion and evolution of its services, the organization is changing its name to Chase Brexton Health Care to more accurately reflect the comprehensive primary care services that it provides.

Founded in 1978 as a volunteer-run health clinic for Baltimore’s LGBT community, Chase Brexton has a history of providing care to underserved members of the community and helping patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and HIV. Since then, it has expanded to a total of six locations in the region, annually serving nearly 25,000 patients from all walks of life.

Along with the newly relocated main Baltimore location, Chase Brexton has primary care offices in Randallstown, Columbia and Easton, as well as with Sheppard Pratt’s Way Station facility in Columbia. It is also provider of the student health services at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The new facility replaces its former location a few blocks away on the corner of Cathedral and Eager Streets.

“Chase Brexton is a model of healthcare equity in Baltimore and around the region,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “For decades, it has played a critical role in our area by providing high-quality care to anyone who needs it, no matter their ability to pay. With this new facility in the heart of Mount Vernon, Chase Brexton is poised to serve many more people, including many who will be newly insured.”

Building on its comprehensive care menu that includes dental, pharmacy, mental health and substance abuse services, Chase Brexton has recently added obstetrics and gynecology care.

With Chase Brexton’s “pod” design, patients are literally at the center of their own care. Treatment rooms line the perimeter of each pod and medical staff move among the rooms to visit patients, who are able to remain in a single room for their entire visit.

Chase Brexton’s leaders two years ago purchased the Monumental Life building and began renovations to transform the 192,000- square-foot property into its new headquarters.

“The primary goal of the renovation was to respect and preserve historically significant features of the ornate Monumental Life complex while adapting and reconfiguring the property to provide much needed health services for the downtown Baltimore community,” said Kim Price, president of Chase Brexton’s board of directors.

The expansion of services does not change its mission with respect to the LGBT community, according to Dr. Julie Eastin of the Behavioral Health department.

The facility is outpatient only, and appointments are needed. To schedule an appointment, call 410-837-2050. For more information, visit ChaseBrexton.org.

03
Oct
2013

America’s doctors leaning left, and other medical news

America's medical community is increasingly leaning to the left politically, and that's a good thing.

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14
Oct
2013

Streamlining LGBT enrollment in Obamacare

doctor, health, gay news, Washington Blade, Obamacare, enrollment

Increased health challenges for LGBT people have been widely documented. (Photo by Bigstock)

NEW YORK — Efforts are being made to get LGBT Americans signed up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, CNN reports.

In honor of National Coming Out Day last week, Out2Enroll’s “Be Out, Be Healthy, Get Covered” campaign launched an LGBT-friendly website with advice about how to navigate the insurance marketplace.

Kellan Baker, who heads the program, did focus groups and surveys with hundreds of LGBT people and heard many concerns, CNN reports.

Increased health challenges for LGBT people have been widely documented. Last month, the Obama administration called a meeting of LGBT leaders to talk about the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the community, CNN said.

Out2Enroll worked with the administration to ensure the new law is LGBT-inclusive. The new law offers domestic partner benefits, prevents eligibility barriers based on sexual orientation, gender identity and pre-existing conditions.

Open enrollment for the Obamacare insurance marketplaces runs through March 31. But to get covered by Jan. 1 — the deadline for everyone in the country to have insurance — one must pay for a policy by Dec. 15.

16
Oct
2013

Gays being considered for ‘Obamacare’

The U.S. Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, atient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Gay News, Washington Blade

The U.S. Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights is working on details of a plan to show how LGBT Americans will have equal access to benefits outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

HOBOKEN, N.J. — The U.S. Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights is working on details of a plan to show how LGBT Americans will have equal access to benefits outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the Credit Union Times and one of its sister sites Benefits Pro, reported last week.

The Act promises “health care regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, age or gender.”

Based on available numbers, the National Academy of Sciences, in a report released in 2011, agreed that gay and transgender people often face “barriers to equitable health care” and receive substandard care when they seek it.

One big variable already identified clearly: While many of those with HIV live in the nearly 30 states that have either already opted for Medicaid expansion under PPACA or are in the process of doing so, there are many more who live in states still sitting on the sidelines, Benefits Pro reported.

Other possible impediments to proper care are being explored, the article said.

15
May
2013