Public health care policy

In a directive to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered changes to how the majority of hospitals in the United States determine who is allowed to visit patients and make medical decisions on their behalf.

For gays and lesbians in committed relationships, this is a pretty big deal.

The change in public policy was driven in part by an infamous case in Florida in which Lisa Pond suffered an aneurysm and her partner of 17 years, Janice Langbehn, was unable to see her in the hospital or even get information about her status. Pond ultimately died in the hospital while Langbehn was in the waiting room, unable to hold her hand or even say goodbye.

In response to the new changes, Langbehn told CNN, “To hold Lisa’s hand wasn’t a gay right, it was a human right.” Though she still to this day has never received so much as an apology from the hospital, she did get a call from Pres. Obama on Thursday about his policy directive to HHS.

You can read the full text of the President’s directive online, but I wanted to share the first few sentences with you here:

There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.

Yet every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides — whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay.

Keep in mind, the directive isn’t purely focused on gays and lesbians, though that’s certainly what is getting the most press in early reporting. Specifically, it says that any hospital who participates in Medicare or Medicaid federal government funding, which includes nearly every hospital in the country, “may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

But on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender front (LGBT) the President did specifically call out a need for improvements in health care policy. He directed the Secretary of HHS to provide “additional recommendations to me, within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, on actions the Department of Health and Human Services can take to address hospital visitation, medical decisionmaking, or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.”

Bravo, Mr. President. Critics may be focused on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, but this is an issue that needed presidential leadership, and I’m proud to see you doing the right thing.

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