Health care shows troubling bias

State law should require insurance providers to cover sex reassignment procedures.

by Keelia Moeller

Medication or surgery is still financially out of reach for many transgender people hoping to undergo the transition into the sex with which they identify.
Sex reassignment surgery is something insurance companies need to start thinking a little harder about. At the moment, too many of them display an unacceptably dismissive and biased attitude toward the procedure. 
For example, medical insurance companies like HealthPartners are creating bias where there should be none. Minnesota mom Brittany Tovar is suing Essentia Health and her insurance provider HealthPartners because they refused to cover medication and surgery for her teenage son’s transition from female into male.
Tovar’s lawsuit claims insurance companies like HealthPartners have a “categorical exclusion” for medication or surgery related to gender reassignment, “regardless of medical necessity.” 
As a result, when Tovar’s son was prescribed with Lupron — a medication used to suppress menstruation — and Androderm, or testosterone, HealthPartners did little to help cover the expenses. The cost of the Lupron was $9,000, which was ultimately out of reach for Tovar. 
To make matters worse, Tovar’s insurance company denied her request to cover her son’s mastectomy surgery, which will cost upwards of $10,000. Tovar will be paying that amount entirely on her own because she sees the operation as medically necessary for her son’s overall health and well-being. 
Tovar’s lawsuit aims to change Essentia’s policies in regard to sex reassignment procedures to and highlight the gender-based bias against her son.
As of right now, health insurers are failing to see the medical necessity of sex reassignment surgeries or hormone therapy — both of which work toward allowing transgender individuals to embody their true identities. To tell transgender people the medication or surgery that could help their mental well-being is unnecessary is to tell them their gender identity is irrelevant.
Yet this type of discrimination is just one more obstacle transgender people face in our society. It may help to explain, in part, the reason why suicide rates among transgender individuals are currently at 41 percent — 36.4 percentage points higher than those of the general public. 
Fortunately, nine states — including California, Illinois and Vermont — currently have laws against insurance discrimination for health care related to gender reassignment. Minnesota and other states should follow this example. 
Furthermore, Minnesota state law should require all insurance carriers to provide plans that cover sex reassignment procedures. 
It is the responsibility of medical insurance policies to protect both the physical and mental health of their patients, and they are failing to do so. With some speedy policy changes, our government can still right these wrongs. 
Keelia Moeller welcomes comments at [email protected].