U. adds transgender insurance

Student Insurance Plan will now cover costs of gender-confirmation process up to $50,000

· April 14, 2010, 4:40 am   ·  Updated April 14, 2010, 12:00 am

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In the next academic year, the Penn Student Insurance Plan will begin offering a new benefit for transgender students — it will cover the cost of the gender confirmation process, also known as gender reassignment or transition.

The benefit covers triadic treatment, the term used for the three-step process of gender confirmation. Triadic treatment consists of psychotherapy, estrogen or testosterone hormone treatment and sex reassignment surgery, which involves the changing of genitals.

The benefit covers the costs of surgery for up to $50,000. According to a research report by the organization Transgender At Work, the cost of male-to-female surgery can average around $20,000.

The initiative was introduced by the previous Lambda Alliance board, chaired by College senior and Daily Pennsylvanian columnist Dennie Zastrow.

“A problem with LGBT advocacy at Penn in the past had been that we overlooked the needs of transgender students,” Zastrow said.

According to the American Medical Association, a lack of proper treatment for transgender individuals can lead to “significant psychological distress, dysfunction, debilitating depression and for some patients without access to appropriate medical care and treatment, suicidality and death.”

Meeting their health-insurance needs was one way of ensuring the transgender community was looked after, Zastrow said.

Last semester, Zastrow brought the proposal before the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee, a group consisting of undergraduate, graduate and professional students, as well as University administrators, that makes recommendations to the Office of the Provost regarding changes in student insurance.

After discussing the gender confirmation benefit, researching the costs and consulting with Aetna — Penn’s insurance provider — the Advisory Committee voted to recommend the “important” benefit to the president and provost, according to Engineering sophomore Shantenu Agarwal, a undergraduate representative on the Advisory Committee.

Last week, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price gave the final approval for the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, thus finalizing the benefit’s inclusion in student insurance for next year.

The cost of the premium will likely only increase by a matter of cents, which is “very little for something so important for people who are transgender,” College junior and Lambda Vice Chairman for Political Affairs Jason Goodman said.

Because the PULSE survey, a questionnaire administered last year that gauged student climate on campus, did not publish data on the transgender community, it is hard to fully know the number of transgender students on campus, according to Goodman.

The transgender community’s lack of visibility “also has to do with the fact that if you’re a trans student, you want to live your life and not have to educate people,” Zastrow said. “But even if it impacts one person, all the advocacy efforts will have been worth it.”

Offering coverage for transgender students is “a necessary standard ... that brings us up to a level of parity” to other schools that already offer such benefits, Lambda Alliance Chairman and Wharton and Engineering sophomore Tyler Ernst said.

The next step, according to Ernst, would be to ensure that a similar benefit is added to the staff health insurance plan, which differs from that of students.

According to Penn’s Non-Discrimination Policy, the school does not discriminate on the basis of gender identity.

Without covering the transition process for transgender students, “we previously were [discriminating], and now we’re taking steps to rectify that,” Zastrow said.

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