Six Years Later, Obamacare Protects a Transgender Teen’s Civil Rights

When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, an 11 year old child named Marcelas stood next to him. Marcelas stood in the Oval Office, just steps from President Obama in a black vest with a tie the same color as the President’s.
MarcelasThat moment represented so much hope for those of us who are working to expand access to health care. Hope that women like Marcelas’ mother would not die because they don’t have insurance. Hope that children like Marcelas would be able to grow up in a country where health coverage is a right. But the rights and protections the law gave to Marcelas that day are so much greater than those I had previously imagined.

The young child who stood by the President at age 11, whose mother had died four years earlier, is now an openly transgender teenager. She says she’s “not the Obamacare kid anymore.” While Marcelas has grown up, Obamacare has been implemented and her civil rights have been expanded.

That is because Obamacare is the first time that federal law broadly prohibits sex discrimination in health care. And, in part because of President Obama’s leadership, the prohibition on sex discrimination will protect transgender people. That means that most health insurance plans will not be able to discriminate against Marcelas because of her gender identity so she will be able to access the health care services she needs as a transgender woman. Courts are recognizing that Obamacare prevents health care providers from mistreating transgender patients. As I read Marcelas’ story this weekend, I was so proud of a young woman I do not know and so hopeful that the former “Obamacare kid” would experience all the protections of the law.

Unfortunately, there are those that push back. Just this week, there were reports of employers pushing back against the proposed regulations that would prohibit discrimination in most insurance plans. Some employers do not want the additional costs related with providing health insurance that does not discriminate – such as by excluding coverage for transgender enrollees or excluding maternity coverage for dependent children.

Yesterday we celebrated Obamacare’s 6th anniversary with cherry blossoms blooming all around us in Washington, DC. In my mind, I see a beautiful image of Marcelas where she lives, in the Washington on the other side of the country, smiling as she is surrounded by cherry blossoms.