Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sex-reassignment surgeries can now be covered by federal health plans

Raul Arboleda / AFP via Getty Images

Just two weeks after Medicare lifted a ban on sex-reassignment surgeries, the federal government undid its own coverage ban on all transition-related care, including surgeries, for federal employees.

The decision, in short, means federal employees might be able to get transition care through government-provided Federal Employee Health Benefits plans starting in 2015.

Edmund Byrnes, spokesperson for the Office of Personnel Management, wrote in an email that the change was in response to advances in medical evidence.

In the past, health experts classified transgender status as an untreatable mental health condition. Today, most of the health-care community, including the American Psychiatric Association, says gender dysphoria can, depending on the patient, be successfully treated with hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery.

The federal government's decision does not mean that all Federal Employee Health Benefits plans will now cover sex-reassignment surgeries. It will instead fall on carriers to decide whether they want to cover transition-related care.

Still, LGBT advocates quickly applauded the decision.

"Today's welcome decision by the Office of Personnel Management to remove this discriminatory and harmful exclusion is an important step towards closing the gap in access to quality health care for transgender workers," HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said in a statement. "HRC urges FEHB insurance carriers to include this essential coverage in their plans so that federal workers have access to medically necessary transition-related care."

By HRC's estimate, just 25 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer full transition-related care. LGBT advocates hope that the end of the Medicare ban will get private employers to rethink their stances on the issue.

Props to BuzzFeed for breaking the story.

Update: Clarified that the federal government's ban affected all transition-related care, not just sex-reassignment surgeries, in the lead paragraph.

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