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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 1 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 31
Transgender public employees to get equal healthcare coverage healthcare coverage
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Transgender public employees to get equal healthcare coverage healthcare coverage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Washington Public Employee Benefits Board (PEBB) voted unanimously on July 31 to offer Transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage to all public employees in the state.

Beginning on January 1, 2015, hormones, mental health, and other non-surgical healthcare services will be provided for the treatment of gender dysphoria. Surgery will also be covered beginning on July 1, 2015.

The PEBB is a state agency that 'purchases and coordinates health insurance benefits for eligible public employees and retirees,' according to its web page.

Gender dysphoria is a well-documented medical condition in which an individual's gender does not conform to the gender they were assigned at birth. Treatment of gender dysphoria is considered medically necessary by the American Medical Association.

'We applaud the PEBB for their leadership on this critical issue,' said Marsha Botzer, member of the Coalition for Inclusive Healthcare and founder and Board Co-Chair of Ingersoll Gender Center.

'This victory ensures that transgender public employees throughout the state will have access to life-saving and medically necessary healthcare.'

'We look forward to working with PEBB to implement and enforce this decision in a timely and uniform way,' said Danielle Askini, the Advocacy Director of Gender Justice League.

'Removing these outdated exclusions brings parity to healthcare coverage - guaranteeing that transgender individuals will not be denied healthcare coverage simply because of who they are.'

The Federal government and the state of Maryland have also recently implemented Transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage for their employees.

The PEBB decision comes on the heels of a June 25 statement by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner that insurance companies may not discriminate against Transgender individuals. Currently, nearly all insurance plans in Washington categorically exclude coverage for transition-related medical treatment, even when that same treatment - mental healthcare, cancer screenings, or hormone therapy, for example - is covered for cisgender people.

'I am transgender and have been a subscriber to Washington State health insurance benefits for over 25 years,' said Kathryn Mahan, an employee at the Pierce County Conservation District.

'Throughout this time, I have felt that I was being unfairly excluded from benefits because of my gender identity - the same benefits that were being offered to other state employees. This has led to much anguish and hopelessness. Today's action by the PEBB is a critical step towards offering transgender employees parity in healthcare coverage. For that, I thank you.'

Coverage for the full range of transition-related healthcare services brings many benefits at small cost, advocates say.

For example, 45% of Transgender Washingtonians have attempted suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. With access to transition-related care, research has shown that the suicide attempt rate drops down to roughly 3%-5%, only slightly higher than the general public.

'Providing the full range of services to transgender individuals is literally a matter of life and death,' said Seth Kirby, Board President of Pride Foundation. 'PEBB's decision sends a clear message to transgender individuals that they matter, and paves the way for other employers to follow suit.'

Removing Transgender exclusions in healthcare is also cost-effective. A 2013 study of Fortune 500 employers who offer Transgender-inclusive health coverage to their workers found that providing such coverage had a negligible impact on costs.

The City of Seattle, the Washington Education Association, Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, and a growing number of large employers that self-insure already provide Transgender-inclusive health coverage to their employees.

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