This month, Tufts University became the 38th university in the United States to include gender reassignment surgery in its student health care plan. These benefits will also include coverage of hormone treatment, which many transgender individuals turn to before or instead of undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Tufts University should be proud of its progress, especially since students will now be able to seek care at their own student health center instead of having to research trans-friendly doctors in the community.
"These are needs that are absolutely a medical necessity," said Michelle Bowdler, the senior director of health and wellness services at Tufts. "It's just about taking care of the health needs of all of our students."
While few students will actually use these benefits, Tufts values itself on being an inclusive university that caters to the needs of all its students. While the costs of adding this to the the health plan were minimal, the university did have to fight with its insurance company before finally deciding to switch providers. Most insurance companies do cover hormone therapy, but exclude benefits such as gender reassignment surgery.
Transgender students across the country have been fighting for these necessary procedures to be covered for years, with big-name universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, the University of California system, Yale, Princeton, and M.I.T. among the ones that provide coverage. Several more cover only hormone therapy, and 20 total universities have trans-friendly plans that cover their employees as well as their students.
Adding these benefits to the student health plan had immediate effects on students questioning their gender identity as well. Tom Bourdon, the director of the Tufts University LGBT Center, said that he has seen an increase in students coming to the center seeking advice for these issues. He added that students are saying they feel more safe talking about their gender identity-related problems now that the university has shown its support for their transitions.
Ira Friedman, a doctor who is associate vice provost for student affairs at Stanford University and director of the student health center there, added, "Students notice whether the issues that they care about, that make them feel like it's a more comfortable and welcoming place, are being discussed and addressed." Stanford has covered gender reassignment surgery since 2010.
In an article about the necessity of gender reassignment surgery, Lucas Waldron discussed the roadblocks in the way of his transition and tried to explain to cisgender people (those whose gender identity and sexual organs "match," e.g. a woman with a vagina) how he struggles daily with the knowledge that he was born with a vagina and developed breasts during puberty.
"As a student at a university that does not cover transgender care in its student health care plan, I can confidently say that, if I were four years younger now, I would not even consider applying to a school without a trans-inclusive health care program," he wrote. "Explaining to a cisgender person why surgery is so important for transgender people is difficult, but it helps to start the discussion with the cisgender person's own genitalia. I asked a skeptical female friend what she would do every morning if she woke up and had to corral an unwanted penis into submission. She admitted she probably would not ever want to leave her house."
The benefits of implementing a more inclusive health plan are vast — not only for current students, but for prospective transgender students as well. By taking equally necessary steps to provide quality health care for all of its students, Tufts University has become a safer and more open environment for transgender students.