Public Policy Priorities
At Equitas Health, our first priority is ensuring adequate access to, coverage of, and stable funding for all of the healthcare services that our patients need.
We are in the process of revising our policy priorities for the 2021/2022 term. Please check back here and follow our social media for a community survey to inform our public policy efforts.
Providing Access to Healthcare for All
Our goal is to provide care for all—but we can’t do that without the essential government programs that help us offer the services our clients need at prices they can afford.
Our top healthcare-related policy priorities include the following:
Ryan White Program
The Ryan White program provides a comprehensive system of care, including primary medical care and vital support services for people living with HIV (PLWH) who are either uninsured or underinsured. Central to the program is providing an important source of continuing access to medication that can help PLWH become and remain virally suppressed, and live close to normal lifespans.
We are the largest Ryan White grantee in the state of Ohio. Equitas Health’s wraparound services that specifically cater to our patients who are HIV positive are largely possible because of the Ryan White Program.
340B Drug Pricing Program
The 340B Drug Discount Program allows Equitas Health to offer a broad range of services to our patients, as well as certain prescription drugs at discounted prices.
At Equitas Health, we work to not only protect the existence and integrity of this program, but also to ensure that there are nondiscriminatory 340B reimbursement practices for our patients by all payors, including Medicaid, Medicare, and commercial insurers. This helps guarantee that our patients can afford the prescriptions they need.
Affordable Care Act
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted to ensure access to affordable healthcare coverage for all Americans. Central to the ACA’s success is the fact that it has expanded health coverage to more than 20 million Americans, including almost 1.5 million Ohioans. Aside from working to ensure access to affordable care, the ACA aims to address health equity by prohibiting discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community in certain health programs and activities.
Equitas Health unequivocally supports the protection and retention of the transformative policies embodied in the ACA, particularly those aimed at ensuring nondiscrimination in the healthcare setting and maintaining access to and coverage of essential healthcare services.
Many of our patients depend on crucial safety net resources, like Medicaid, to access affordable healthcare services. Medicaid is the avenue through which a number of our clients access these services—particularly those who were afforded coverage through Ohio’s Medicaid expansion program.
Ohio’s Medicaid expansion afforded coverage to Ohioans age 19 through 64 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level ($17,236 for a single individual in 2019). It also guaranteed coverage for people living with HIV without first requiring them to have been diagnosed with AIDS.
There are nearly 400,000 low-income members of the LGBTQ+ community who are currently uninsured but who qualify for coverage under Medicaid. Through the implementation of Medicaid expansion in 26 states, including Ohio, thousands of people living with HIV gained insurance coverage that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. This includes many of our own patients at Equitas Health.
At Equitas Health, protecting Medicaid as an entitlement and ensuring the retention of the Medicaid expansion program in Ohio are top priorities. We strongly oppose block granting Medicaid and the implementation of personal responsibility measures, including work and education requirements, that negatively impact our patients.
Behavioral health plays an integral role in a person’s overall health. This is even more imperative for members of the LGBTQ+ community, who are almost three times more likely than others to have experience with a mental health condition.
At Equitas Health, we know that ensuring access to high quality, appropriate and culturally competent behavioral healthcare is a necessity for many of our patients and for members of the communities we serve. We work actively to support behavioral health parity and increased access to substance use disorder treatment options, syringe access programs, and support services.
In order to achieve this parity and increased access, Equitas Health supports an increased enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. This piece of federal legislation requires health insurers and group health plans to provide the same level of coverage benefits for mental health and/or substance use disorder treatment and services that they do for medical and surgical care, if the coverage in fact provides behavioral health coverage.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, dental care has remained the top unmet health need in this state for nearly 20 years—particularly among children and low-income adults. In an attempt to help address this issue, Equitas Health began offering dental services in two of our medical centers (Dayton and in the King Lincoln neighborhood of Columbus).
Ensuring continued access to affordable dental services is crucial to the overall health of our patients. We support increased access to and coverage of dental services.
Community Health Centers
The Community Health Center program is a federal program that provides primary healthcare services to medically-underserved populations. Because of this program, Equitas Health is able to support its community-based programs, through which we aim to reach underserved populations where they live to provide them with necessary and accessible healthcare. An integral part of this work is prioritizing attention to providing such services to underserved people, particularly those living in communities of color, who live in our existing service areas.
Working to End the HIV Epidemic Through Prevention and Care
Fighting HIV has been at the center of Equitas Health’s mission since our organization’s inception, and we are committed to ending the HIV epidemic in the US by 2025.
To achieve this goal, we must prevent new HIV infections, provide treatment and care for those affected by HIV, and ensure that people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) have access to the necessary support services to maintain their treatment and to guarantee a stable and healthy life.
In a recently released report, AIDS United and Act Now: End AIDS published a federal roadmap for action to end the HIV epidemic in the US. The roadmap focuses on six major pillars, a number of which Equitas Health already employs through our work. These include:
- Prevention of new HIV transmissions,
- Ensuring broad and equitable access to effective HIV care and treatment,
- Working to eliminate HIV health disparities, and
- Addressing social and structural barriers to effective HIV prevention and care
Equitas Health is determined to do our part to make this goal a reality by providing prevention, treatment, and care services and programs, and by working with policymakers to ensure that these services and programs are appropriately funded and that they are accessible to all who need them.
Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2025 inherently requires a strong effort to reduce and prevent any new HIV infections. For our part in this mission, Equitas Health engages in evidence-based prevention strategies to further reduce the number of HIV infections, particularly in communities of color that are disproportionately faced with higher rates of HIV infection.
Equitas Health’s specific prevention strategies include providing access to essential prophylactic medications (like PrEP and PEP), implementing statewide education initiatives about transmission (including the U=U campaign), and providing harm reduction services. You can read more about each of these below.
Pre- and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP)
Using medications like pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP, respectively) are promising prevention tools that help prevent new HIV infections.
At Equitas Health, we know that one of the most crucial pieces of the prevention puzzle is to ensure that there is access to, coverage of, and reimbursement for medications like PrEP and PEP. We work with policymakers at the state and federal level to ensure that these types of medications remain accessible to our patients—no matter their insurance coverage status.
Undetectable = Untransmittable (U = U)
The science is clear: undetectable = untransmittable. People living with HIV who are on effective treatment and whose viral loads are undetectable cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partners. By taking their medication as prescribed to keep healthy, people living with HIV are a key part of the solution to ending the HIV epidemic. As a proud U = U community partner, Equitas Health has launched a statewide campaign to raise awareness about U = U, and to ensure that the groundbreaking science behind the campaign is accessible to as many people as possible.
The U = U campaign is crucial for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it helps shift the conversation to science, not stigma. Since our inception, Equitas Health has been committed to ending stigma against HIV and ending the HIV epidemic. Through our U = U campaign, we will not only educate our patients and communities about the importance of staying healthy, but also about the importance of becoming an advocate to help spread U = U’s message as much as possible.
Harm Reduction Services
One factor that continues to drive the HIV epidemic in the US is drug use—including both the sharing of injection equipment and the risky sexual behavior often associated with drug use.
In order to maintain decades-long gains in preventing HIV among people who inject drugs, it is imperative to ensure access to preventive services to the people who need it most. These services include syringe service programs, mental health and substance use disorder services, testing and prevention services for people at risk of HIV and viral hepatitis, and access to treatment and care services for PLWHA.
Equitas Health also supports policies that reduce the use of shared syringes and that ensure their safe disposal. We understand that providing linkage-to-care activities through syringe services programs are a critical part of HIV prevention, and we work actively to ensure funding for and access to this type of care.
Treatment and Support Services for People Living with HIV/AIDS
Equitas Health actively works to ensure that PLWHA have access to the treatment and support services that are critical to their ability to live healthy and stable lives.
We are committed to supporting and providing access to evidence-based and evidence-informed care and treatment interventions that are replicable, cost-effective, capable of producing optimal HIV care continuum outcomes, and easily adaptable to the ever-changing healthcare environment. We work with policymakers at the state, local, and federal level to ensure that funding is maintained for the supportive services and programs that Equitas Health offers to PLWHA.
Guaranteeing Equality and Dignity for the LGBTQ+ Community
Part of our mission at Equitas Health is to serve as a voice for the LGBTQ+ community, and we actively work to advocate for equality and dignity for all at the local, state, and federal levels.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to face discrimination in various facets of their lives, including in spaces that extend far beyond the walls of a doctor’s office. We work actively to support laws and policies that extend legal protections to members of the LGBTQ+ community and work against the passage and implementation of those that do not.
As a healthcare organization, Equitas Health aims to ensure equitable access to nondiscriminatory healthcare services for all. We support existing legal and policy protections aimed at eradicating discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community that hamper their ability to access healthcare, like the nondiscrimination provisions codified in the Section 1557 of the ACA.
We also support the development of additional laws and policies that extend legal protections to members of the LGBTQ+ community in all aspects of their lives, including housing, employment, and public accommodations. Equitas Health supports bills like the Ohio Fairness Act, which would extend Ohio’s existing nondiscrimination law to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, and efforts to modernize Ohio’s hate crime law to include crimes against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Whether there is a discriminatory bill being proposed at the Ohio Statehouse or a federal agency that proposes a new rule that would disproportionately harm members of the LGBTQ+ community, Equitas Health advocates to protect our communities against discrimination at all levels of government and in all facets of their lives.
HIV Criminalization Laws
Equitas Health has a longstanding commitment to ending the discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV that are codified in both state and federal law.
As a member of the Ohio Health Modernization Movement, Equitas Health is working with a coalition of other community partners dedicated to repealing or reforming Ohio’s regressive and discriminatory HIV criminalization statutes. There are six statutes within the Ohio Revised Code that criminalize people with HIV—often enhancing penalties for people simply because they are HIV positive—and they heavily rely on stigma, not science. These statutes include not just the felonious assault statute which broadly criminalizes HIV, but also multiple statutes that specifically target and enhance penalties for those engaged in sex work and behaviors that do not pose any risk of transmitting HIV. These laws are enforced disproportionately in communities that face over-policing, like communities of color and in low-income areas, and they do nothing to decrease the risk of HIV transmission. What’s more, they actually encourage people to engage in unsafe sex practices by discouraging people from knowing their status so as not to be at risk for legal liability.
Equitas Health is committed to helping lead the charge to modernize Ohio’s laws so that they no longer criminalize HIV and instead reflect evidence-based practices aimed at decreasing HIV transmissions and encouraging safe and healthy sexual relationships.
Members of the transgender community face discrimination, stigma, and systemic inequality in various facets of their lives. Our commitment to fighting for equality for all members of the LGBTQ+ community includes working to ensure that Ohioans who are transgender are afforded access to the same legal protections, public accommodations, and services as everyone else.
This includes protecting current legal protections afforded to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in federal law, like those protections found in Title IX and those enforced by the US Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice. We are also committed to ensuring equity in access to healthcare for patients who are transgender, including working to abolish the Ohio Medicaid and state employee benefit package policies that explicitly exclude transition-related healthcare and transgender health coverage. Equitas Health is also committed to working to overturn Ohio’s prohibition on changing gender markers that appear on birth certificates.
Eliminating Violence Against Members of the LGBTQ+ Community
The mission of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO) is to work to eliminate violence perpetrated on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identification, domestic violence, and sexual assault through prevention, education, advocacy, violence documentation, and survivor services, both within and on behalf of members of the LGBTQ+ community.
BRAVO is a program of Equitas Health, and we share this same mission.
Providing Housing for PLWHA and LGBTQ+ Youth
Housing for PLWHA
Having access to stable housing is not only associated with better health outcomes for PLWH, it also means that PLWH are more likely to be virally suppressed, which means that they cannot transmit the virus to other people. Additionally, people who are homeless or who do not have stable housing face HIV infection rates that are a staggering five to ten times higher than those who do have access to stable housing.1
Equitas Health is committed to providing access to the essential care and services that PLWHA need to live stable and healthy lives, which inherently includes providing access to housing. We work to maintain or expand funding for federal housing programs for PLWHA, like the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA). Additionally, we support the development and implementation of laws and policies that support adequate access to culturally competent and nondiscriminatory services provided at shelters frequented by PLWHA.
Housing for LGBTQ+ Youth
LGBTQ+ youth confront homelessness at disproportionately high levels as compared to other youth. Facing alienation and rejection from family at home or at school, LGBTQ+ youth often run away and, facing further societal discrimination like LGBTQ+ adults, have particular difficulty finding stable housing, including in homeless shelters.
Equitas Health is committed to addressing the disproportionately high rates of homelessness experienced by LGBTQ+ youth in Ohio. We will work to expand existing state, local, and federal resources that support programs that not only aim to improve family relationships, but also reduce rates of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth. Additionally, Equitas Health supports the development and implementation of laws and policies that facilitate access to culturally competent and nondiscriminatory services provided at shelters frequented by LGBTQ+ youth.
Minimizing Negative Interactions with the Criminal Justice System
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system because of discriminatory laws and policies that lead to criminalization, over-policing, and targeting by law enforcement. In an effort to address this overrepresentation, Equitas Health is committed to decreasing initial entrance into the criminal justice system for members of the LGBTQ+ community and to specifically addressing issues that LGBTQ+ youth face within the criminal justice system.
Combatting Entrance into the Criminal Justice System
To minimize negative interactions with the criminal justice system, Equitas Health supports the development and implementation of local, state, and federal law and policies that prohibit discriminatory policing practices and unfair law enforcement that disproportionately target members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly those who are people of color, low-income, and/or who are transgender and gender nonconforming.
Some of this work overlaps with Equitas Health’s efforts to curb heightened criminalization of LGBTQ+ people that result from Ohio’s numerous HIV criminalization statutes. Additionally, Equitas Health is committed to ensuring that current programs aimed at providing support services to members of the LGBTQ+ community upon re-entry are maintained, including those aimed at providing access to affordable healthcare and housing.
LGBTQ+ Youth and Criminal Justice
LGBTQ+ youth often face specific barriers that increase their likelihood of entering the criminal justice system. Working to minimize some of the most common forces that steer LGBTQ+ youth into the criminal justice system, like societal and familial rejection and discriminatory and harsh disciplinary practices in their schools, is crucial.
Equitas Health supports the development and implementation of local, state, and federal law and policy that prohibits such discriminatory practices in schools and seeks to provide welcoming and supportive spaces, programs, and services for those LGBTQ+ youth who face family rejection at home.
PUBLIC STATEMENTS & POLICY BRIEFS:
The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act (Updated 8/16/17)
American Health Care Act (Updated 6/22/17)