LGBT Rights: Brown University Approves Transgender-Specific Health Care Coverage

Brown University’s student newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald reported that the university would be eliminating a rider in its student health insurance plan that banned transgender-specific health care coverage. The plan will now cover $50,000 worth of treatment, including sex-reassignment surgery, hormone therapies, and other treatments.

The university’s decision is symbolic of a new and growing trend within the civil rights and health care reform movements of the 21st century. President Obama set an historical precedent when he supported same-sex marriage during his second inaugural address. Vice President Joe Biden called transgender discrimination “the civil rights issue of our time” back in October.

In the business realm, a recent analysis of Fortune 500 companies found that about a quarter of them include health insurance benefits for transgender people. Deena Fidas, the deputy director of the workplace project at HRC, points out to Raw Story that many companies have signed on because they wish to remain competitive and don’t want to risk losing valuable employees who may require such care covered by transgender health care reform.  

And it doesn’t stop there. New academic literature, such as this publication by Richard Gregory Johnson III of Vermont University, further serves to represent the shift in social equity dialogue, to include gender equality and sexual orientation.

It’s no surprise that young people are calling for these kinds of reforms, as college can be an easier time to transition, and there is a rising trend of people identifying as transgender at younger and younger ages, like 11-year-old Sadie. In this generation, college is as diverse a place as ever, and for those who identity as transgender, timing can be especially important.

Shane Snowdon, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s health and aging program and former founding director of the Center for LGBT Health and Equity at the University of California San Francisco, said “each year that you cannot transition when you need and want a gender identity that’s truly yours is a year that is at best difficult and at worst real pain and suffering. Having access during college years just spares you from going on for that many more years without being able to transition to your true gender identity.”

While working on efforts to expand coverage for transgender individuals at the University of California system, Snowdon found that one effective way to improve equity dialogue to include transgender issues was to talk about how the changes would personally impact transgender people and to highlight how little it would change health care costs.

“This is not something that’s going to jack up costs for other students to any significant degree,” Snowdon said. “It’s a low cost, high need kind of coverage. Very, very, very few people access it, but those who do, it will have tremendous meaning for.”

“Trans people people tend to be caught in this catch-22 where the medical profession and their individual doctor says there’s a treatment will work for you and you should get it, but the insurance company won’t pay for it,” said Mara Keisling, the founding executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality.

While LGBT activists push for non-discriminatory health regulations to be passed, the prospect appears to be positive, with some cities and states taking the first steps of banning discriminatory riders.

According to Raw Story, California passed a law in 2006 that prohibits heath insurance companies from discriminating based on gender identity and regulations issued last November clarified that any treatment prescribed to a cisgender person, or a person whose gender representation matches his or her sex, must be covered when a doctor prescribes it to a trans person.

For example, many women receive hormone therapies for menopause, so insurance companies cannot block coverage of hormone therapies for trans people. Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., have passed similar regulations banning such discriminatory exclusions.

The Affordable Care Act also serves as a push in the right direction in the eyes of LGBT activists, as it mandates that insurers can’t “discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.”