The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Advocates are launching an LGBT-specific Obamacare campaign. Here’s why.

(James Buck / The Washington Post)
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States and nonprofits are already pouring billions of dollars into efforts to enroll millions of uninsured Americans into Obamacare's new programs.

On Thursday, another group will throw its hat in the ring: Out 2 Enroll will launch with a lunch event at the White House as the first national Obamacare outreach campaign to focus exclusively on the LGBT community.

"This isn't, 'Oh, let's put a rainbow on it,'" says Kellan Baker, associate director for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, one of the campaign's funders. "What we've seen from our research, and our experience in the LGBT community, is that there are serious issues that we're going to need to address."

The LGBT community is more likely to lack health insurance coverage than heterosexuals. Particularly, Baker thinks that reaching the LGBT community will be a tougher sell–and one that requires more targeted messaging than other outreach campaigns will be able to provide.

Two challenges in particular stuck out in polling research that Out 2 Enroll recently conducted, working with polling firm Perry Undem.

First, focus groups showed a lot of skepticism from transgendered people that the health plans on the new marketplaces would meet their health care needs. And there was concern that, even if they called up the plan to find out, the person on the other end would likely have no idea.

"They were some of the most eye-opening focus groups I've ever done," says Tresa Undem, a Perry Undem co-founder. "They have been discriminated against to such a big extent, in the insurance world and the health care world. They all have the same experience with exclusions, and they come to this issue incredibly skeptical."

Undem also noticed a common theme among the lesbian, gay and bisexual people she polled. One-third of them had, at some point, tried to get a same-sex partner onto a company insurance plan. Half said they had trouble getting their partner signed up, and 72 percent felt discriminated against in the process.

"The standard messaging you'll see from other groups is, 'Look at all these new options,'" says Undem, who has also done polling work for Enroll America. "That won't work with this group, because it says nothing about medically necessary care, or whether their partner gets coverage."

Baker is also concerned about what kind of images the LGBT community might see, and whether it would feature same-sex couples as those who could benefit from the law.

"Those indications that there are couples that look like them, language that is inclusive and non-discriminatory, those are actually big motivators for consideration," Baker says. "We don't know if another initiative will address those needs."

At the White House lunch, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and a number of health law supporters will discuss how best to do health law outreach.

Over the next six months, Baker says, the group is "planning a series of regional meetings in some high priority enrollment states like Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. We'll be having these regional meetings to introduce folks to our research."

If additional funding comes through, the group will also look into hiring outreach workers across the country to help connect LGBT individuals with enrollment options.