April 2, 2014 at 9:13 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Obama touts 7 million enrollees in health care reform
Barack Obama, Election 2012, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama touted the 7 million people who reportedly enrolled in health insurance coverage before the deadline. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama celebrated the more than 7 million new enrollees into health insurance programs Tuesday on the day after deadline for enrollment, as some advocates expressed disappointment that the number of LGBT enrollees is unknown.

Speaking before supporters of the Affordable Care Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, Obama touted the estimated 7.1 million new enrollees through the federal health insurance exchange as a sign of success for a law often criticized for its implementation rollout.

“Despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through the marketplace,” Obama said.

But those numbers may be skewed. On one hand, they may be conservative estimates because they don’t count those who enrolled through state insurance exchanges, or those who received coverage through the Medicaid expansion under the health care reform law.

On the other hand, they may be inflated because they don’t count those who had to reapply after losing health insurance and don’t take into account that people need to pay their first month’s premium to enroll fully.

Obama notably did not mention Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius during his remarks. She’s been criticized for allowing the faulty rollout of the federal health insurance exchange website. Obama also didn’t disclose any demographic data on the 7 million enrollees into health care reform.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during his press briefing prior to the remarks that he doesn’t yet have the demographic information for any category, even though the administration collected it during the enrollment period.

Earlier data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid demonstrate that information was collected on the basis of gender and age. Information was also collected on the basis of race, but it was optional for enrollees to identify as they were applying for health insurance.

The federal government did not collect information from enrollees about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Laura Durso, director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said “unfortunately” there’s no way to know how many of the estimated 7 million new enrollees are LGBT.

“We all need to continue to advocate for more and better data collection so that in the future we can assess enrollment numbers among LGBT communities, along with other important aspects of health and wellbeing,” Durso added.

The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on whether it would be open to a change in policy that allows future enrollees to identify their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gary Gates, distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles said information on LGBT enrollees would be helpful in discerning health concerns related to LGBT people.

“Tracking access to health insurance and healthcare use more generally by LGBT individuals may assist in better service provision for these needs,” Gates said. “Williams Institute research has shown that many LGBT individuals…and those in same-sex couples are less likely than non-LGBT individuals and those in different-sex couples to have health insurance. The availability of affordable health insurance as a result of the ACA could help to reduce this disparity.”

Although the process for collecting LGBT data on certain national health surveys is underway, Gates said the Obama administration could take another step to enhance the available findings.

“This may include administrative data collection activities like enrollment data, but should also include health-related surveys like the National Health Interview Survey (which still does not include any measurement of gender identity) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (where sexual orientation and gender identity measures are not included on surveys in all states),” Gates said.

Obama said during his address he’s generally open to the idea of changing the Affordable Care Act to make it work better for everyone.

“There will be parts of the law that will still need to be improved,” Obama said. “And if we can stop refighting old political battles that keep us gridlocked, then we could actually make the law work even better for everybody. And we’re excited about the prospect of doing that. We are game to do it.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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