Both health care and gay marriage garner heated discussions in political and policy circles these days, though the two are not often linked.
New research, being published in the American Journal of Public Health, connects them. The report shows that after civil marriage rights were granted to same-sex couples in Massachusetts in 2003, health clinic visits by gay men decreased significantly, and the accompanying costs diminished as well.
The study, led by Mark L. Hatzenbeuhler of Columbia University, compared health data of 1,211 sexual minority male patients at a community health center in Massachusetts for the twelve months prior to the legalization of civil marriage for same-sex couples on November 17, 2003, and the twelve months following.
Researchers analyzed figures in four key areas: number of medical visits, costs of medical visits, number of mental health visits, and costs of mental health visits. The accumulated information was also parsed to determine if there were any differences between partnered and non-partnered men.
The results indicated statistically significant decreases in all areas — in visits and costs in both medical and mental health for both partnered and non-partnered gay men. Medical care saw a 13 percent decrease in visits and a 10 percent drop in costs, while mental health claimed a 13 percent decrease in visits and a 14 percent decrease in costs. Interestingly, since marriage policy would seem to effect couples most, the study discovered no significant differences between partnered and non-partnered men.
The findings are important because no study has yet provided insight on how pro-gay marriage policies affect health care use and expenditures for lesbian and gay individuals. Although a 2010 study, also led by Hatzenbeuhler, noted an increase in mental health problems among lesbian, gay, and bisexual subjects in states that passed constitutional amendments banning civil marriage for same-sex couples in 2004. Both of these studies join a growing body of research literature linking government social policies with personal health and overall health care costs.
While the study was spearheaded by Hatzenbuehler out of Columbia University, the report was co-authored by many notable locals from the Boston-based Fenway Institute: Conall O'Cleirigh, Kenneth Mayer, Steven Safren, Judith Bradford, and Chris Grasso. Naturally, one wonders if the unnamed community health center in the study could be Fenway Health. When asked, Hatzenbuehler declined comment, citing confidentiality.
Wherever the study was centered, the conclusions appear to point to one significant way that governments can help reduce health care costs while increasing personal well-being: provide civil marriage rights for same-sex couples everywhere.
The full report is available from the American Journal of Public Health.
[Note: this post was updated to include more detailed results and further context on December 20, 2011]
[James A. Lopata]
The author is solely responsible for the content.