New rules have just been proposed by the federal government to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by hospitals, insurance plans and health programs nationwide.
Missouri already is well ahead of the curve on this one.
For a state not known as a hotbed of progressive social action, Missouri ranks near the top for the number of hospitals with inclusive policies for LGBT patients and employees. It reached that level in just a couple of years.
In 2013, the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group, found only two Missouri hospitals — the VA St. Louis Health Care System and Children’s Mercy Hospital — that had all the policies needed to qualify as one of its “leader hospitals.”
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Now the number is up to 19 and includes St. Luke’s Hospital and Research Medical Center in Kansas City.
Credit St. Louis-based PROMO, an organization that has been working on LGBT issues since 1986. With financial backing from the Missouri Foundation for Health, it has been helping hospitals develop nondiscrimination policies.
“I think they see a need for that now,” said Andrew Shaughnessy, PROMO’s public policy manager.
In the past, LGBT patients were often “quite invisible,” Shaughnessy said. But as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients have grown more assertive, that’s no longer the case. “Hospitals are encountering patients who feel more empowered.”
Hospitals have practical reasons for adopting inclusive policies. Medicare scrutinizes patient satisfaction surveys and penalizes poorly performing hospitals with lower reimbursements. Dissatisfied LGBT patients can hurt a hospital’s bottom line. “That’s an economic downside of not being inclusive,” Shaughnessy said.
But it all really comes down to respect. LGBT patients have certain health care concerns — higher rates of heart disease and cancer among gay men and asthma and hepatitis among lesbian women, for example. But they’ve often faced insensitive health care providers. Their partners have been denied hospital visitation rights.
Shaughnessy said he’s been treated differently as a patient because of his sexual orientation.
“It was the way I was spoken to and, once I was diagnosed, the way I was treated,” he said.
That was just three years ago. With attitudes and policies rapidly changing, it should be less likely to happen again.