March 25, 2009
DETROIT -- The Michigan Coalition for Gender Equality expressed deep disappointment today regarding changes to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) policies that will eliminate reimbursements for gender reassignment surgeries for new customers. This change was approved by Michigan’s Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation without any opportunity for public comment or input.
The Michigan Coalition for Gender Equality (MCGE) includes Affirmations, American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Michigan Equality, Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy, Transgender Detroit, Triangle Foundation, the Rainbow Law Center, and the National Association of Social Workers’ Michigan Chapter.
“We are concerned that BCBSM underestimates the profound impact of these medically necessary procedures,” said Andre Wilson of MCGE. “Gender reassignment surgeries can be a critical part of the transition process and these new exclusions will place many transgender individuals and their families at real risk.”
The American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers, and World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) have called for coverage by public and private insurers of all medically necessary procedures for the treatment of gender dysphoria or transsexualism, including gender reassignment surgeries. Treatment delays or denials for such services often lead to more serious and expensive health problems, states the AMA, which has also called exclusions of transgender-related services discriminatory. WPATH affirms that gender reassignment surgeries are “cost-effective, not cost-prohibitive” and can be “essential to achieving well-being for the transsexual patient.”
“Many people are unaware of the distress accompanying gender dysphoria and of the damage caused by insurance exclusions,” said Maxine Thome Executive Director of NASW Michigan. “Research shows the effectiveness of treatment, and Social Workers see the difference firsthand. Access to services brings dramatic improvements in health status, as well as increased employability and social acceptance.”
MCGE members learned of the BCBSM changes from the Detroit Free Press which reported, “The changes do not affect 170,000 customers already in individual Blue Cross plans or with Blue Cross insurance through their employer. But they will affect thousands losing insurance as employers drop coverage or lay off staff.”
“Excluding medically necessary gender reassignment surgeries endangers patients' health which strains the entire health care system, driving costs up for everyone,” said Jay Kaplan of the ACLU of Michigan. “We urge both BCBSM and the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation to reconsider this benefit change.”