Obama Expands Obamacare Protections For The Transgendered

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Blake Neff Reporter
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a planned new regulation Thursday that will require health insurers participating in Obamacare to cover more health procedures sought by the transgendered.

The new rule applies to every health insurer offering plans through or any of the state-run Obamacare insurance exchanges. It declares that insurers are prohibited from engaging in discrimination not only on the basis of sex, but also on the basis of gender identity.

In the past, several health insurance plans have categorically excluded health care related to transitioning between genders, often on the grounds that such procedures are often cosmetic, not medically necessary, and elective in nature. Now, such categorical bans will be disallowed, and insurers will have to cover many of the procedures.

HHS says the new rule won’t require insurers to cover all hormone treatments or sex reassignment surgeries, but it will almost certainly require them to cover a large number of them.

Jocelyn Samuels, director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, told CNBC that the new rule would prohibit insurers from denying surgeries and other procedures simply because they’re intended to treat gender dysphoria (where a person feels their body has the wrong gender) rather than some other ailment. For example, if a doctor recommended a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) to treat gender dysphoria in a woman who identifies as a man, the insurance company couldn’t deny it if it would ordinarily follow such a recommendation for other conditions (like cancer).

The new rule additionally requires that “Individuals must also be treated consistent with their gender identity, including [in] access to facilities.” That means, among other things, healthcare providers will have to let the transgendered use the bathrooms (and in some cases, hospital wards) of the gender they identify with, even if it clashes with their physical sex.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leading gay and transgender-rights group in the U.S., lauded the new measure.

“LGBT people have too often faced healthcare and coverage systems that provide inequitable and hostile treatment on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said HRC’s government affairs director David Stacy. “This proposed regulation will help address some of these disparities and is vitally important to help end discrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming people in healthcare and insurance.”

The new regulation also includes other provisions intended to help women, the disabled, and those who can’t speak English. For instance, insurers may be expected to provide sign language interpreters for the deaf so they can communicate better with health care providers.

The regulation is currently open for public comment, and will not be finalized for several months.

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