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LGBT Health and Well-being

HHS Work for Equal Rights for LGBT Americans

Chalkboard with the word pride written on it In the past, many same-sex domestic partners were denied the ability to visit their loved ones in the hospital. At the direction of President Obama, HHS has taken action to ensure equal rights for LGBT Americans to visit their partners in the hospital. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued new rules in November 2010 for hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid that require them to respect the right of all patients to choose who may visit them when they are hospitalized.

In September 2011, at the same time that CMS stepped up enforcement of hospital visitation rights, it also clarified that same-sex couples have the same rights as other couples in terms of naming a representative who can make medical decisions on a patient’s behalf. Existing rules protect the rights of hospital patients to have representatives who can act on their behalf. HHS has updated the guidance explaining these rules to make it easier for family members, including same-sex partners, to make informed care decisions for loved ones who have become incapacitated.

CMS has also issued guidance to states making clear that same-sex partners may be afforded treatment comparable to other spouses when it comes to receiving long-term care, such as care in a nursing home, under Medicaid. Federal law protects assets, such as a couple’s home, in the event that a married individual must receive nursing home care through Medicaid. In June 2011, CMS clarified that states have the flexibility to extend this protection to same-sex partners.

Secretary Sebelius has also strengthened internal policies at HHS to help ensure that LGBT individuals have equal access to HHS programs and employment opportunities. In April 2011 the Secretary issued a new policy explicitly requiring employees to serve all individuals eligible for HHS programs without regard to non-merit factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, in March of 2011, the Secretary updated and clarified HHS’s equal employment policy – which already protected against unfair treatment based on a person’s sexual orientation – to also include gender identity and genetic information.

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Content created by Assist. Sec./Public Affairs., Digital Communications Division
Content last reviewed on May 27, 2014