How Gay-Friendly Is Your Health Care?

By Walter Armstrong

Two of the gay community's leading advocacy groups have teamed up to rate the health-care industry on its treatment of gay patients—and then, if all goes according to plan, to encourage consumers to reward gay-friendly providers with increased business.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) announced last week their first mailing of surveys to the nation's largest hospitals. The groups intend to use the information collected to create a so-called Healthcare Equality Index, measuring individual providers on such issues as patient nondiscrimination policies, visitation rights, medical decision making for same-sex couples and same-gender parents, and general sensitivity to the issues raised by gay patients.

"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have unique health-care needs, and hospitals need to implement certain policies and procedures in order to ensure high-quality, nondiscriminatory care," said Joel Ginsberg, GLMA's executive director. "Some hospitals are already doing a good job. This project will help all hospitals improve their services to our community, while giving our community the opportunity to assess which hospitals are willing to take those necessary steps."__

This is not the first time HRC has set itself up as an industry watchdog. The group's Corporate Equality Index, started five years ago, offers a company-by-company evaluation based on a list of gay-related policies and practices. The annual report, released at the start of the holiday shopping season, garners considerable publicity for companies both naughty and nice (see Is Shopping Gay Really Possible?"). And the group claims that its index has helped steer the gay community's billion-dollar annual buying power toward gay-friendly businesses, which in turn has helped advance workplace equality. In fact, this year marks the first time that more than half of all Fortune 500 companies offer benefits to their employees' domestic partners.

HRC and GLMA hope to have the same success in triggering gay consumer activism in the booming health-care industry—with patients using their pocketbooks to support gay-friendly providers and therefore pressure those who get poor grades to improve. It remains to be seen if the groups will expand the project to evaluate the nation's 300,000 physicians.

"Given the patchwork of federal and state laws, it is our hope that this index will provide our community with the resources to make sound health-care decisions," HRC prez Joe Solmonese said, adding that the project's ultimate goal is to create a "patient's bill of rights for [gay] Americans." Such a bill could have sufficient consumer and industry clout to either win legislative approval or even bypass federal and state laws by instituting "gold-standard" health-care practices.

The first report is due out next spring. For more info on the criteria the groups use to score health-care providers, go to