Corey Prachniak is an LGBT rights, HIV policy, and healthcare attorney. He serves on the Steering Committee of the Network for LGBT Health Equity and tweets @LGBTadvocacy.
This is a series of posts covering Corey’s work in Puerto Rico for the Salud LGBTT conference.
Disparities in health are unnecessary, unfair, and should not be a part of our society, says President of the Universidad de Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences Campus, Dr. Edgar Colón, opening the Salud LGBTT summit in San Juan. Discrimination and disparities can take many forms, and we need to work on eliminating them, he added.
This week’s LGBTT health summit is the first to offer continuing education credits for doctors and nurses. This is critical for training the medical community and exposing them to the unique needs of LGBTT people, says Juan Carlos Vega, president of the summit (and a Network Steering Committee member who is also blogging about the event, and who is pictured above).
Yesterday, I met with Joel Ayala, an attorney at the Civil Rights Commission of Puerto Rico who is focused on LGBTT issues. Joel shared with me that finding culturally competent medical professions here in San Juan can be very difficult for LGBTT people. It is especially difficult to find specialists, he says; for example, transgender people who need gynecologists have a very difficult time and are often unable to receive care.
Furthermore, those providers who work well with LGBT people are often out of financial reach for LGBTT persons, Joel said. According to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid website, 1.7 million Puerto Ricans – out of 3.7 million total people – are on Medicaid or related insurance programs for low-income people; another 700,000 are on Medicare. Many high-end providers who are more educated on LGBTT issues do not accept public insurance programs, which have a low reimbursement rate compared to private plans or what they can make by simply not accepting insurance.
Without knowing about LGBTT behaviors and risk factors, preventative health efforts by providers will not be successful, says Alex Cabrera Serrano, who spoke about the 2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System report on Puerto Rico’s LGBT community. While the tobacco use rate for the general population has been declining, and currently rests at around 12% for non-LGBTT people, it has been increasing in the LGBTT community – currently at 23%.
This summit is a vital part of the effort to educate the medical community on LGBTT issues – including the disparities the community faces, the unique health needs we have, and the pitfalls in treating LGBTT people in an insensitive or discriminatory fashion. The professionals who are attending this week’s events deserve credit for taking responsibility to provide all their patients with excellent care.
Stay tuned to the Network blog and my twitter account, @LGBTadvocacy, for lots of live coverage of the summit!