Access to Health Care at the Margins: Implications for Older Sexual Minority Women with Disabilities

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Virginia Tech

Counselors are called to address barriers to human growth and development through advocacy (ACA, 2014), such as those posed by inequitable health care access for socially disadvantaged groups (CDC, 2013; IOM, 2011). Health care contributes to positive health outcomes (Healthy People 2020) and is therefore an important component of advancing health equity among marginalized populations, such as older sexual minority women (SMW) with disabilities. Despite evidence of disparate health care access and health outcomes, no research to date has explored the health needs or health care experiences of disabled older SMW. This study therefore sought to address this gap in the literature by: identifying current levels of health care access and barriers among older SMW with disabilities; exploring predictors of health care access among older SMW with disabilities; and identifying protective factors, such as social support and resilience, that moderate the relationship between health care access barriers and health outcomes. Results obtained from a sample of 208 respondents provided baseline data about health care access and barriers among older SMW with disabilities. Generally, respondents had a place to receive health care, but few had access LGBTQIA+-specific health services despite indicating that this type of health care was important to them. Only about half had accessed mental health services in the last six months, and people who had accessed mental health care perceived it to be easier to access than people who had not. Respondents most highly endorsed external barriers related to cost of health care, and they reported higher health care stereotype threat related to age and disability compared to gender and sexuality. External barriers to health care were predictive of most health care access indicators (e.g., utilization of general and specific health services, as well as health outcomes). Among internal barriers, sexuality- and disability-related health care stereotype threat emerged as predictors of health care access and health outcomes respectively. Similarly, acceptability of health services, accessibility of health services, and affordability of health services were specific external barrier categories that appeared to influence health care access and outcomes among older SMW with disabilities. Neither resilience nor social support moderated the relationship of external access barriers to physical or mental health outcomes. However, resilience had a significant independent relationship with physical health outcomes, and both resilience and social support had significant independent relationships with mental health outcomes. These findings illustrate the structural factors related to health care access and outcomes for older SMW with disabilities, as posited by health equity frameworks (Braveman, 2014). The most influential internal barriers related to health care stereotype threat, which may develop in response to minority stressors specific to health care settings. The findings of this study support lifespan perspectives on LGBTQIA+ health (Fredriksen-Goldsen, Simoni et al., 2014), as well as minority stress processes (Meyer, 2003), as frameworks for understanding LGBTQIA+ health in later life. Implications for counselors, counselor educators, community organizations, and policies are discussed.

sexual minority, sexual minority women, health equity, health care access, sexual orientation, disability, aging