Labor unions have been at the forefront of the battle for equal health care benefits for LGBTQ workers for decades. The United Mine Workers of America, for example, secured some of the first protections for LGBTQ members in the 1980s and 1990s.
Despite their recent increases in visibility and acceptance in the workplace, though, LGBTQ workers still face health care discrimination and gaps in coverage. Fortunately, integrated benefits for LGBTQ members can eliminate many of the challenges these groups face when seeking health care treatment — and can support every union member, not just those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
Unique Health Challenges Facing the LGBTQ Community
Offering all members the same health care benefits can seem like a simple solution to ensuring health care equality. But integrated benefits, which prioritize a high level of collaboration between health professionals, can have a particularly positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ union members and their families. Insufficient health care coverage has led many LGBTQ workers to defer regular checkups, screenings and appointments in an effort to reduce their health care costs. This means in turn that some LGBTQ members may face increased health risks.
At the same time, discrimination against LGBTQ individuals within the larger scope of society has left members of the LGBTQ community with higher rates of mental illness issues like depression and substance abuse than the general population. It's important that LGBTQ individuals have access to health services that address these health conditions in a way that is sensitive to the discrimination they may have faced in the past or might face now.
Members who are transgender may also seek out counseling, hormone therapies or surgery as part of their transition. Integrated health solutions help members get treatment earlier and receive consistent and appropriate drug coverage — something that LGBTQ members might otherwise not get out of their health benefits.
Integrated Benefits for LGBTQ Members Save Money — and Lives
Integrated benefits for LGBTQ members empower them to take control of their health. With integrated benefits, union members can schedule exams with service providers of their choosing who understand their needs as individuals within the LGBTQ community. These exams are crucial for detecting chronic symptoms and conditions, especially those that are more prevalent among the LGBTQ community.
But LGBTQ members aren't the only ones who can profit from integrated benefits. All union members — whether because they have chronic conditions themselves, are concerned about possible injuries or just want to look after their health with preventive treatments — can benefit from being under the care of health professionals who actively communicate with each other to determine the best way to approach their patients' health.
Detecting diseases early on might also reduce plan costs for union boards by improving health outcomes for LGBTQ members and providing the flexibility to explore treatment and symptom management options that are right for patients' physical and financial health. Integrating care offerings can also ease many of the board's administrative burdens, allowing for streamlined communication between the board and the insurance provider during the term of the contract.
LGBTQ members rely on unions to create an environment where they feel safe and comfortable asking for the health care they need. Offering integrated benefits tells members — LGBTQ or otherwise — that their union prioritizes their health.
Julia Passwater is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Passwater earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Indiana University Bloomington, and she earned a Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. After earning her law degree, Passwater spent over a decade enforcing federal employment laws for the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Today, Passwater writes about topics such as politics, government, employment law and work in the 21st century.