Health Care Reform is Critical to the LGBT Community
Don’t Let Important Legislation Get Derailed
By GSBA President Mona Smith
For the past year the nation has been abuzz about health care reform. Battle lines were drawn and this week President Obama signed a health care bill into law. For many of us, it is not the reform or the law we were promised or for which we held out hope. It does not contain a public option nor does it contain Congressman Jim McDermott’s amendment that would have eliminated the imputed income tax many of us pay for the privilege of covering our domestic partners in our health care plans. It also hampers a woman’s right to choose. But, this new law is a fresh start and with the promise of the White House and some Congressional leaders, there will be more legislation moving us toward greater health care reform.
The Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) has championed health care reform on behalf of the LGBT and business communities for the past several years. Health Care reform, while important to all of us, is especially critical for the LGBT community. As a community we considerably benefit from eliminating lifetime maximums and pre-existing conditions. About four years ago, GSBA was the lone chamber of commerce to endorse state mental health parity legislation. We knew that mental health coverage would benefit our LGBT youth who suffer higher suicide rates, those affected by
HIV/AIDS, and those facing obstacles because they are LGBT. We also recognized that this bill was good for business and would increase workplace productivity and reduce absenteeism. With our support, mental health parity became law.
A couple of years ago when GSBA was looking for a health care trust to provide affordable health care plans for its member businesses, we discovered that Washington law excluded “businesses of one” from participating in small group plans. As a result, the smallest of businesses are forced to pay higher rates for individual plans that are similar to or contain less coverage than group plans. We saw this as unfair and knew the law needed to be changed. GSBA talked with state legislators and the governor. Last year, GSBA joined the Small Business for Secure Health Care Coalition (now the Main Street Alliance) to work on national and state health care reform. With the partnership of the Main Street Alliance, we testified and lobbied in Olympia and succeeded in redefining a small business from 2-50 employees to 1-50 employees, thereby allowing “businesses of one” access to group health insurance plans and more affordable rates.
Our state legislature tied implementation of the redefinition to passage of national health care reform that included the elimination of pre-existing conditions. The stakes became even higher for Washington -- there are approximately 400,000 “businesses of one” in the state. GSBA leaders and member businesses met with Senators Murray and Cantwell as well as Congressmen McDermott and Inslee. We participated in press conferences and were part of White House telephone conferences on health care reform. We shared our stories and described how federal laws adversely affect LGBT families and small businesses and how we would benefit from reform.
Now that President Obama has signed the health care bill into law, it appears Attorney General Rob McKenna wants to unwind the progress made and benefits conferred. When attending a GSBA Candidate Forum, then Candidate McKenna told us that the position of Attorney General is non-partisan and he promised to represent all Washingtonians. Attorney General McKenna is now out of step with the people and legislators of Washington.
There is bipartisan support for health care reform in our state legislature. The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan redefinition of small business health care bill, which was co-sponsored by Kaiser and Pflug, a Democrat and Republican. In committee hearings, I heard both parties voice support for health care reform and that Washington state could lead the way for Washington, D.C.
Playing partisan politics will result in harm to Washington families and businesses. Over 400,000 small businesses will lose access to more affordable group health insurance. With this redefinition, these businesses should qualify for federal health care tax credits, which could also be lost. This is the time to move forward, not backward. Please tell Rob McKenna not to sacrifice Washington families and businesses for his partisan politics.
(Photo: GSBA President Mona Smith with activist Anne Levinson, Chair of Washington Families Standing Together.)