The last week or so has been a busy one for LGBT health issues.
Update #1: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new guidelines reinforcing same-sex couples on hospital visitation rights. Originally in 2010 guidelines had been announced that allowed a patient to designate a same sex partner as an allowed visitor even if he or she was not considered "family" in the eyes of the law because the two partners were not married at the federal level.
The importance of these new guidelines is that instead of existing as recommendations they have been formally added to Medicare and Medicaid's "Conditions of Participation" which are standards of care that need to be met by institutions that are reimbursed under both programs. According to Jesse Moore, the representative who announced the guidelines, "HHS can terminate a Medicare provider agreement" (aka stop funding the hospital) if guidelines are not met and/or it appears the hospital is not working to correct violations of the guidelines. This adds signficiant weight to the guidelines.
Additionally, the new guidelines reinforce a patient's ability to withdraw permission for a person to visit at any time (same sex partner or not). This provides greater protection to patients who may be in a domestic violence situation or who experience a relationship status change, etc. while in the hospital. Also, the guidelines allow a patient to indicate who they want to make medical decisions for them at any time, regardless of marriage status and consent for those medical decisions can be withdrawn at any time as well.
Finally, despite the fact Medicare and Medicaid are used as the tools to reinforce the guidelines, any hospital patient is protected by them, not just individuals who receive Medicare and Medicaid.
Update #2: Recently we reported on the lack of training for doctors and other medical providers receive about supporting LGBT patients. That being said, several solutions are coming down the pipe. First, the Gay & Lesbian Medical Education Project is in the process of finalizing a document of "effective practices" related to treating the LGBT community to provide to medical schools, providers, etc. Also, the Fenway Institute recently received a $248,000 grant to establish a National Training and Technical Assistance Center to offer support to community health centers and their providers so they can provide high quality care to LGBT patients.