Health Plans To Cover Lower Surgery for Gender Reassignment

Updated: 7:03 a.m.

In a move which trans rights activist have called a step toward greater equality, the Harvard University Health Group Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care have modified their coverage plans to include lower gender reassignment surgery, according to University spokesperson Nanci Martin.

The change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012 for faculty and staff and on Aug. 1 for students. Trans Task Force co-chair Jia Hui Lee ’12 sent an email announcing this change over the TTF, Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, and Radcliffe Union of Students listservs on Thursday.

Lower surgery, also known as bottom surgery, alters an individual’s genitals to match his or her transitioning gender identity.

“I know Harvard students who have made the decision to take steps to have surgeries to reassign their gender,” said QSA Co-Chair Samuel J. Bakkila ’11-’12. “I know it’s always a difficult decision for anyone to make, and I think that it’s great that the University is now supporting steps to have [individuals’] outward gender reflect their inward gender.”

Last year, Harvard modified its health care plan to include coverage of top surgery, which includes breast construction and mastectomies, for “individuals struggling with serious gender identity issues,” according to a statement issued by University Health Services. This change took effect on Aug. 1, 2010.

In 2010, the University decided not to include lower surgery in its health plan, though Blue Cross Blue Shield had outlined Harvard’s new health policy to include the operation. At the time, the University cited a lack of local qualified health care providers for individuals transitioning from one gender to another.

Harvard reviewed at its policy regarding gender reassignment surgery earlier this year and concluded that lower surgery is a safe procedure for both males and females, according to a UHS statement. The health care policy was “further modified” following that review, the statement said.

When considering this alteration of policy, Harvard examined the coverage of its “peer institutions,” which have also begun to include gender reassignment, according to the statement.

This academic year, the University of Pennsylvania began covering gender reassignment procedures, including hormone treatments and sex reassignment surgeries.

Harvard’s decision has received much praise from members of the Harvard BGLTQ community.

Bakkila said that he thought the policy change might help Harvard attract “a more vibrant student body” because it demonstrates administrative support for students considering transitioning from male to female or vice-versa.

TTF  co-chair Levi M. Roth ’14 echoed Bakkila’s sentiments, calling the coverage “a great thing.”

“In terms of outcome, one of the most important forms of equality is equal medical coverage and access to healthcare,” Roth said. “The fact that there are people at Harvard who are willing to take on this project is very important.”

—Staff writer Eliza M. Nguyen can be reached at enguyen@college.harvard.edu.                                                                 —Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at hrouse@college.harvard.edu.

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