Advocates and health care providers for LGBT and HIV-positive residents in Maryland have been scrambling for months to gather information on how the Affordable Care Act will impact their clients -- and now they're looking to share the information.
"We really need help to get the word out," said Doug Rose, a volunteer with Equality Maryland, at a public meeting on the health care rollout in Mount Vernon on Monday night. "I think a lot of people still don't know what to do."
Rose said lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and those who are HIV-positive have experienced historic discrimination in the health insurance market -- with women and gay men at times facing steeper fees -- that the ACA now forbids.
"My message today is really, for most people, it's pretty simple," he said, of taking advantage of new coverage options.
The meeting at Chase Brexton Health Care's new facilities on North Charles Street, held in partnership with Equality Maryland and Free State Legal, was the first of four such events planned by the advocacy organizations this month.
The room was staffed with ACA advisors and navigators, stocked with sandwiches and refreshments, but only a few people showed up for the free advice on navigating the new health care law.
Both a man and a woman, who did not wish to be identified, asked questions about seeking health insurance under the state's expanded Medicaid program after a brief presentation from Rose and other panel members from Chase Brexton and Free State.
According to the panelists, the Medicaid expansion will offer some HIV-positive Maryland residents with more coverage than existing offerings, like Ryan White programs, but that many Ryan White wrap-around services like food assistance and transportation services will continue.
They also said the Maryland AIDS Drug Assistance Program could continue to be a resource for individuals who obtain health insurance through the open market.
Other issues are less clear, they said. Advocates are still working to determine if some procedures, like sex reassignment surgeries, or treatments, like hormones for transgender residents, will be covered under the new plans.
"Advocates are looking at these things. We are tracking these things," Rose said.
Representatives from Chase Brexton said LGBT and HIV-positive residents can contact their staff at ATeam@chasebrexton.org -- regardless of whether they are Chase Brexton clients -- to be connected with assistance in finding a health care plan.
Anne Blackfield, director of outreach and pro bono services at Free State Legal, said her organization is also available to provide legal advice on complicated issues such as filing jointly for coverage as a married same-sex couple.
"No matter what, we're very fortunate to be living in Maryland, because everyone here wants this to be a success," Rose said, noting that advocates are working closely with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to understand the law's impact on the LGBT community. "If things get rocky, just be patient and know that everything will be OK."
The next event is at 6 p.m. at the Chase Brexton center in Columbia, at 5500 Knoll North Drive, Suite 370. There are two events on Thursday: the first at 12 p.m. at the Chase Brexton center in Easton, at 8221 Teal Drive, Suite 202; the second at 6 p.m. at the Chase Brexton center in Randallstown, at 3510 Brenbrook Drive.