Metro Weekly

LGBTQ groups decry GOP tax reform bill

LGBTQ advocates worry over potential cuts to health care programs and tax hikes on lower-income earners

U.S. Senate chamber – Photo: C-SPAN.

Several LGBTQ groups have slammed congressional Republicans for passing a tax reform bill that includes provisions that threaten vital health care programs that benefit members of the LGBTQ community.

The U.S. House of Representatives previously passed its own version of the tax bill last month, with the Republican-led Senate passing it by a 51-49 vote on the evening of Dec. 1.

Both bills now go to the conference committee, which will work out a final version that then must be approved by both chambers.

“With thoughtless disregard for their constituents, 51 Senate Republicans just voted for reckless legislation disguised as ‘tax reform’ that threatens millions of Americans’ health care and programs crucial to the LGBTQ community,” Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “This widely unpopular and dangerous bill was drafted behind closed doors, not made available to the American people until a few hours before the vote, and rushed through without any meaningful debate. History will judge how these senators voted today, and the American people will remember at the ballot box.”

Among the provisions in the bill that some see as problematic are a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to buy health insurance.

That mandate is what keeps healthy people in the insurance market, increasing the number of people in the “risk pool” and the amount of money available to take care of the smaller number of individuals who will become sick or injured.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, repealing the individual mandate could result in 13 million people leaving the insurance market over the next 10 years, with 4 million leaving the market in the first year alone.

That, in turn, could cause insurance premiums to skyrocket and make obtaining insurance unaffordable for millions of others.

It could also threaten provisions in the ACA that require insurance companies to cover care for people with preexisting conditions, as less money in the insurance market makes it more difficult to ensure coverage for conditions with expensive treatments, such as people living with HIV or chemotherapy and radiation for people with cancer.

According to the Center for American Progress, an estimated 65% of LGBTQ adults with preexisting conditions rely on the ACA.

Additionally, LGBTQ people are more likely to lack affordable insurance coverage compared to the non-LGBTQ population.

Beyond the health care provisions, advocates find the the tax bill problematic because of the deep revenue cuts stemming from the reduction of taxes, particularly on high-income earners.

As a result, the federal government will either have to make up the revenue in other ways or reduce spending on government programs, including critical health care programs like Medicare, Medicaid, HIV/AIDS programs, the Ryan White Care Act, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The elderly advocacy organization AARP estimates that the tax reform bill would result in an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare. That would create problems for elderly individuals who rely on Medicare as their primary form of insurance coverage. It would also threaten many domestic HIV/AIDS programs, which are funded primarily through Medicare.

“Republican lawmakers are casually and callously playing with the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ and low-income Americans by intentionally ignoring the devastating effects of their tax bill to score a cheap legislative victory,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “This tax bill is nothing more than a scam that deliberately targets access to healthcare for some of our nation’s most marginalized communities, and will have devastating impacts on the health of LGBTQ people and many others in this nation.”

Transgender Law Center, which typically does not comment on tax bills, also registered its opposition to the House and Senate bills, calling them a “matter of life or death” for many in the transgender community.

“Transgender people, particularly transgender people of color, already face intense violence and discrimination in housing, employment, education, health care, and all areas of public life,” Kris Hayashi, the executive director of Transgender Law Center, said in a statement. “The bill in the Senate would devastate support systems and services, including essential health care, that many in our community need to survive. For transgender people living with HIV in particular, this bill could mean the loss of life-saving treatment and fuel an epidemic that the U.S. government has ostensibly pledged to end.”

Some budget analysts object to provisions in the Senate bill that would effectively increase taxes on low-income Americans, particularly those making less than $30,000 per year. LGBTQ Americans, especially those who are transgender, and people of color are more likely to fall disproportionately into that tax bracket.

Both House and Senate versions of the tax bill include an expanded child tax credit that excludes low-income families. That credit will not be accessible for 10 million children whose parents fall into those lower tax brackets. LGBTQ-headed families, whether single or married, are disproportionately more likely to be living below or near the poverty line.

The House version of the tax bill would repeal the Johnson Amendment, a provision that currently prevents tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Without this prohibition, wealthy individuals could potentially manipulate charities to push a right-wing social agenda.

The repeal of the Johnson Amendment has long been a priority of anti-LGBTQ groups like the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom, who are deeply involved in efforts to curb LGBTQ rights at the state and local levels, including anti-bullying and nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ students in schools.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com