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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Boston Approves Comprehensive Health Benefits for Transgender People

Boston Approves Comprehensive Health Benefits for Transgender People

June 12, 2014

(cross-posted from Community Catalyst's Health Policy Hub blog; Health Care For All testified with Community Catalyst this week at the hearing on this proposal and will continue to work on this issue.)

With Boston Pride celebrations coming up this weekend, Bostonians have at least one reason for preemptive celebration! Yesterday, the Boston City Council unanimously passed a new ordinance that would ensure that the City only contracts with health insurance providers that offer comprehensive benefits for transgender people. This means that transgender Boston city employees will no longer face discrimination in trying to access a health plan that covers their health care needs.

Boston is the first city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pass such a policy, though we’re following in the footsteps of a handful of other municipalities, including San Francisco (CA), Portland (OR), Seattle (WA), Rochester (NY), and Washington D.C. We’re hopeful that the city-specific ordinance will help influence other municipalities around the state as well as the Commonwealth at-large in supporting comprehensive access to care for all of us living here in Massachusetts. This ordinance is the first step for us to forge a public path for health equity, making the statement that no form of discrimination belongs within our borders.

Community Catalyst, Health Care for All, and Health Law Advocates made the decision to alter our own health benefits package this past year, noticing that our previous carrier excluded transgender health care coverage. Listed among the collection of the PPO and HMO plans’ exclusions were:

• Transsexual surgery, including related drugs or procedures
• Services deemed not medically necessary by the insurance carrier.

Despite the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health clearly stating that transition-related care such as mental health services, hormone therapy, and appropriate reconstructive surgeries are medically necessary for transgender people, many insurance carriers’ policies suggest otherwise. As a result, the burden of proof lies upon the consumer, requiring an uphill battle for those seeking time-sensitive transition-related coverage.

But, we’re making momentous progress here in the Commonwealth.

With this new policy, Boston is standing as a leader for the state, and other municipalities on this issue. By offering comprehensive transgender coverage to Boston’s employees, we really are instilling a strong sense of equity in our city’s practices, and a strong sense of health security for those serving our community. A hearty round of ‘thank yous’ go out to the Boston City Council and the members of the Transgender Benefits Workgroup for making this new policy come to fruition. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the AIDS Action Committee, Eastern Bank, MassEquality, GLAD, and Health Law Advocates as we work with the state to make additional progress in supporting equitable health insurance coverage for all populations.

   -Emily Polak, Community Catalyst