U.S. Health Surveys To Ask About Sexual Orientation

The government’s major health surveys would begin asking people to identify their sexual orientation under a proposal released today by the Obama administration.

Under the proposal, the National Health Interview Survey and other major research tools would ask people to identify whether they are straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The idea was recommended by a report the Institute of Medicine issued in March. The IOM declared researchers need more information to understand what health differences exist among people of various sexual orientations.

Today’s proposals would also expand the questions government surveys ask people about their race, ethnicity and disability status. Many of the current questionnaires inquire whether people are black or Hispanic, but don’t dive deeper to find out, for instance, if a Latino is Puerto Rican or Mexican-American. The new questions will. There are big disparities among some of these sub-groups, says Garth Graham, a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. “Not all Latinos are all the same, not all Asian Americans are the same,” he says.

The new proposal primarily springs from the Affordable Care Act,  which requires that all national federal data collection efforts seek information on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status. But parts of the proposal, such as the details on sexual orientation, go beyond what the law mandated.

Most of the new questions can be viewed online. The government is still working on its sexual orientation questions and intends to test different versions with the goal of fully incorporating them into surveys by 2013.

HHS is accepting comments on its proposal through Aug. 1.  HHS has a pretty clear summary of the rationale behind the additional data collection. And here‘s the the press release.

jrau@kff.org