Health care merger concerns gay rights leaders

One Colorado wants to ensure access to care for transgender policyholders

A Colorado gay rights leader said he is watching with concern to see how the acquisition of Mesa County’s Rocky Mountain Health Plans by national behemoth UnitedHealthcare will impact steps the smaller company has taken to protect transgender policyholders.

Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, spoke about the merger during a Saturday evening meeting hosted as part of his organization’s We Are One Colorado tour. The meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Grand Valley’s building was an overview of recent accomplishments and goals by Colorado and national gay rights advocates.

Grand Junction City Councilor Chris Kennedy asked Ramos during the meeting whether he thought Rocky Mountain Health Plans would adopt “exclusions” that would deny certain services to transgender people. Rocky Mountain Health Plans has not had those exclusions as part of its coverage, but UnitedHealthcare has used some in the past, according to Kennedy.

Ramos said the same dynamic was set to roll out with proposed mergers between insurance giants Aetna and Humana and, separately, Anthem and Cigna – the companies in each proposed pairing had different policies about transgender services. Both unions were quashed by federal judges in recent weeks, however, over concerns that the megamergers would lower competition in the insurance marketplace too much.

Ramos said he’s not certain those rulings will stand, and in the local cases he hopes that Rocky Mountain Health Plans will be allowed to operate as an independent subsidiary as currently planned.

“With this new administration, who knows what’s going to happen?” Ramos said. “As these mergers are happening we want to make sure people aren’t going to lose coverage.”

Ramos fielded questions about President Donald Trump’s promised rollback of the Affordable Care Act and whether insurance companies would maintain measures celebrated by LGBT rights advocates, like spousal coverage for same-sex couples.

“I actually think that insurance companies are going to be some of our biggest allies,” Ramos said, adding that “because they spent so much money the last couple of years implementing the Affordable Care Act” he doesn’t believe companies will walk back those changes.

During the meeting, Ramos gave an overview of gay rights accomplishments in the last few years, ranging from the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, to the annual allocation of $2 million of marijuana tax money to anti-bullying programs throughout Colorado.

Some of One Colorado’s future goals include banning “conversion therapy” — an often religiously motivated counseling practice that seeks to change someone’s sexuality —  from being practiced on children in Colorado, and electing a gay rights-supportive governor and state Senate majority in 2018.

The group also hopes to curtail religious exemption measures at the state and federal levels, and make it easier for transgender people to change their state-issued identification documents.


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