The Brown Student Health Insurance Plan will cover 14 different sexual reassignment surgery procedures starting in August, Director of Insurance and Purchasing Services Jeanne Hebert confirmed in an email to The Herald.
The move makes Brown one of a handful of schools and healthcare providers nationwide to cover the surgeries.
“We identified this as an important benefit for students to have access to,” Hebert wrote, adding that the change was in line with “Brown’s efforts to support all students.” The coverage will be funded through renewal rates paid for next year’s student healthcare coverage, she wrote. In general, the total package of sexual reassignment surgeries, hormone therapy and other services can cost up to $50,000.
Kelly Garrett, LGBTQ Center coordinator, said she has strongly advocated this change for the past several years. A milestone in the movement to add coverage for these surgeries was the inclusion of hormone treatment in the current school year’s coverage plan, Garrett added. The sexual reassignment procedures that will be covered are “very standard and very comprehensive,” she said.
In the past, transgender students did not have access to sex reassignment surgeries at Brown and often were barred from treatment due to high costs, Garrett said. “I know people where it’s taken them 10 years because they needed to save money,” she said. The LGBTQ Center has no statistics on how many transgender students are at Brown, and it is difficult to get accurate data due to self-reporting and the nature of some students’ gender identity changes during their time in college, she said.
Though doctors have declared these surgeries medically necessary, insurance companies typically deem them cosmetic and exclude them from coverage across the United States, Garrett said. Meanwhile, without access to hormones and surgery, transgender people may “face discrimination” because others may not accept their gender identity and presentation, she said.
Noah Lupica ’16, a male-identified transgender student, said the change would be crucial for transgender students, especially given the high costs of the surgeries. “Like with anything, it depends on the person, but the fact that Brown is now offering these surgeries is life-saving for them,” he said.
Lupica went through the “first stage of surgery” in high school, which “in essence allowed me to come into myself,” he said. Though all transgender people are different, he said, the list of female-to-male procedures the University will now cover all of his needs.
Surgery in high school changed his life, Lupica said. “I feel free to go through life and not make that be my primary concern,” he said. “Cisgendered people, ordinarily most people, don’t even think about how limiting it can be to not feel comfortable in their own skin.” The term cisgender refers to people who identify with the gender associated with their biological sex.
Garrett said the coverage change could not have happened without the help of student advocacy, including from the student group GenderAction, a subgroup of the Queer Alliance. Members of Gender Action, a small group that meets with University officials to advocate for transgender issues, pressed for the change in insurance policy through letters to administrators, said Maddy Jennewein ’14, a member of the group.
“Brown has joined a pretty small group of colleges that give full benefits for trans students,” Jennewein said. Citing the fact that most health care plans across the country do not cover sexual reassignment surgeries, Jennewein added, “I think it’ll be a huge impact for trans students. … This is a really great opportunity for them.”
Universities that offer coverage for at least some sex reassignment surgeries as of 2012 include Cornell, Harvard, Stanford University and Penn, according to resources compiled by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy and lobbying organization.
The insurance policy changes are part of a broader effort to address University policies affecting transgender students, Garrett said. Other attempts to improve University policies, she added, include training people at Health Services and Psychological Services, creating and disseminating lists of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and advocating for gender-neutral housing options for students.
“I think we have a great reputation as a liberal school that attracts a lot of different students,” Jennewein added. “I’m glad our student policies are now up to par with the student body.”
It has not yet been decided whether this coverage will be extended to the staff health insurance plan, Garrett said. “The insurance plans are completely separate, so we’re in the discussion,” she said.
For female-to-male surgeries, the new coverage plan will include “mastectomy, hysterectomy, salpingo-oophorectomy, vaginectomy, metoidioplasty, scrotoplasty, urethroplasty, placement of testicular prostheses (and) phalioplasty,” Hebert wrote. For male-to-female surgeries, coverage will include “orchiectomy, penectomy, vaginoplasty, clitoroplasty (and) labiaplasty.”