Coverage for gender reassignment surgery is a necessity

As the nation, and perhaps even the world, basks in the pride of the first ever Transgender Day of Visibility, we are reminded just how far there is to go before transgender people are both seen as important and treated equally by all.

This reminder comes from an old foe of the LGBT community - one that has both helped us tremendously with mental and physical health issues, but also one that has denied us fair access to things we need and shamed us for being who we are: the health care system.

In this case, unfortunately, their actions are hurtful.

Last week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan announced that they were going to immediately cut gender reassignment surgery from their list of covered benefits.

The announcement also comes in conjunction with other painful cuts that will affect the LGBT community. First, coverage of pregnancies isn't available until after the first six months of obtaining coverage. After that, the new coverage has a benefit maximum of $5,000 for vaginal delivery, and $7,500 for medically necessary C-sections. BCBSM has also reduced the maximum hospitalization coverage to 120 days, and inpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment has been cut from 45 days covered to just 30.

All of these cuts hurt, especially for a community that has higher rates of mental health and substance abuse problems. And what's more, these blows are hitting our community as we still have problems getting our loved ones covered by our health plans and are forced to jump through hoops to get equal health care rights.

The obstacles are endless.

But none is so disheartening to hear as the complete annihilation of coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

BCBSM claims that the surgery is not "necessary" in the same way that heart surgery or coverage for cancer treatment is. They said that it was a "business decision" and that they were simply getting in line with what other health care providers offer.

But progress never happens by falling in line with what everyone else is doing. It comes by standing out.

Though this may be "just a business decision" to Blue Cross, it's a decision that negatively affects the lives of Michigan's transgender community, and people who are struggling with the idea of coming out.

Gender Identity Disorder is real. It's as real as breast cancer or depression or diabetes or heart disease - all things covered by BCBS's health care plans. It's recognized by the American Psychological Association, it's treated by doctors and the best-known cure for it is gender reassignment surgery.

Another real thing? Discrimination. And it's happening right now to all the people who are having their chance to really be themselves taken away. Yes, the economy is hurting and BCBS saw that they had to make cuts to keep their heads above the water. But what about all the people who now, because of this decision, will never be able to afford the surgery they need to be who they are?

Whether you're a transgender person who has already transitioned, someone waiting to transition, or just an ally, in honor of Transgender Day of Visibility, don't be silent about this issue.

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