To your health: out and insured

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It is National Coming Out Month, enrollment opened for the Affordable Care Act and the open-enrollment period for Medicare is in full swing. All three mark a huge step forward in improving the health of LGBT older adults.

Coming out is more important than ever for LGBT older adults. Some fear disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity to health-care and aging-service providers. Past, negative experiences in those environments have given us cause to be cautious. Those fears are not unfounded.

However, we now know how important it is that those providers have complete information about us so that they can provide the best possible care to us. It is important for all of us to come out, especially when seeking these types of services. Find out from friends which providers are LGBT-senior-friendly or look for providers on the LGBTEI’s website. If you have concerns about disclosing this information, bring a “buddy” with you when you tell your provider. There is strength in numbers.

Another important improvement in LGBT health is the implementation of the ACA’s state marketplace (also called “exchanges”) provision for health insurance. Three years after it was passed into law, many still have concerns and questions about “Obamacare.” Let’s talk about some parts of the program that may help you.

Obamacare is not perfect. No law or social program is perfect. It does, however, try to do some good. First, if you like your current insurance, nothing needs to change unless you want it to change.

Things that have changed include the elimination of any lifetime limit on coverage. There are now restrictions on how much insurance companies can raise their premiums each year. For LGBT people, especially LGBT older adults, you can no longer be denied coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. Since 86 percent of people over 55 have a pre-existing condition, this is especially helpful. And, if you get sick, you cannot be kicked off of your insurance plan.

Enrolling in the ACA state insurance “exchange” is a relatively simple process. Go to www.healthcare.gov or call 800-318-2596; TTY 855-889-4325. There is also help available locally for completing applications for enrollment. Call Public Health Management Corporation at 855-887-9229 or Temple University Health System at 215-707-9104. Each has several locations throughout the city.

The other improvement to the health of LGBT seniors is in the Medicare program, which also has seen some changes due to the ACA. These changes include lower costs for prescription drug coverage, as well as free (with some exceptions) preventative health screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies. Some vaccines and annual flu shots are also now free. The Medicare Trust Fund is now secure through 2029 as a result of the ACA.

According to Obamacare.com, the ACA does not replace Medicare. Medicare is not part of your state’s health-insurance marketplace. If you have Medicare, keep it. You will still get all the new benefits, rights and protections Obamacare offers on your current Medicare plan. Open enrollment for Medicare ends Dec. 7. There is no change in the way that you enroll for Medicare.

Is your head exploding with all of this information? Don’t worry, it is happening to a lot of people! Here are some resources for more information about Medicare Open Enrollment and about enrollment for insurance on the exchanges under the ACA: On Oct. 27, there will be a special Silver Foxes program at the William Way LGBT Community Center about all aspects of the Medicare program. Silver Foxes is held from 3-5 p.m. and is free and open to the public. For additional information about Medicare, go to www.Medicare.gov or www.Healthcare.gov. You also can call 800-MEDICARE; TTY 877-486-2048.

For information about the Affordable Care Act and how to enroll, the Center for American Progress, the Sellers Dorsey Foundation and the Federal Agencies Project have launched Out2Enroll.org, a campaign to inform LGBT communities and to encourage LGBT individuals to enroll in the program. More information about the ACA and how to enroll is also available at www.Healthcare.gov.

Ed Bomba is communications chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative. The LGBTEI, headquartered in Philadelphia, fosters and advocates for services, resources and institutions that are competent, culturally sensitive, inclusive and responsive to the needs of LGBT elders in the Delaware Valley and beyond. To comment on this article, suggest topics for future articles or for more information, visit www.lgbtei.org or call the LGBTEI at 267-546-3448 and watch for “Gettin’ On” each month in PGN.