Insurance coverage still limited for transgender employees
Officials cite financial constraints for lack of benefits to employees
March 2, 2011, 5:08 am·
In the minds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, two University policies stand in the way of true equal rights.
Penn does not plan to compensate — or “gross up” — for the extra $1,000 in taxes that employees in same-sex partnerships pay because the Internal Revenue Service does not recognize their unions as equal to marriage, according to Terri Ryan, manager of Strategic Communications for Penn’s Division of Human Resources.
Additionally, Penn extended insurance coverage last fall for transgender students seeking gender reassignment surgery. However, there are no current plans — on a federal or a University level — to solve the lack of benefits for transgender faculty and staff.
If the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed after President Obama declared the act as unconstitutional on Feb. 23, the tax disparity that LGBT employees face may be solved, LGBT Center Director Bob Schoenberg said.
“Providing extra gross pay to same-sex domestic partners would be moot if the inequities within IRS practices are altered,” he said. While compensating for the current federal inequalities remains important, Schoenberg added that employers may prefer to wait for a federal solution rather than temporarily implementing a compensation.
Although some faculty and staff members were hoping for Penn to provide insurance coverage for employees seeking gender reassignment this spring, the University will not pursue this recommendation due to financial constraints, said Ingrid Waldron, chairwoman of the Personnel Benefits Committee.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, only American University, University of Michigan and the 10 University of California schools offer transgender coverage for faculty and staff. Harvard University offers an incomplete form of coverage, which accounts only for chest reconstruction or breast augmentation.
If implemented at Penn, the cost of coverage for triadic treatment — including mental health care, hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery — would be less than $1 per employee per year, according to the Personnel Benefits Committee Report from spring 2010.
While the cost would be relatively low, “the University is currently working under a policy of financial prudence and cost containment which makes it difficult to introduce new benefits at this time,” Ryan wrote in an e-mail. The University instead will dedicate its resources to new federal-and state-mandated coverage. For example, Penn will dedicate more funding to insure dependents up to the age of 26 and to treat autism, Ryan added.
Because transgender students have had access to insurance coverage since September, the continued exclusion of faculty and staff has upset many employees, Dana Lane Taylor, specialist for the Office of Information Security, wrote in an e-mail.
While Annenberg School for Communication professor Katherine Sender supported the coverage for students, “this should be a benefit that is provided to everyone,” she said.
“Many members of the larger community may not fully understand how broad and devastating discrimination is against the transgender community,” Taylor said.
Furthermore, the policy has broader implications for Penn’s LGBT friendly image, Sender said. By not extending insurance coverage to faculty and staff, Penn is “squandering quite a lot of goodwill that has been generated by pro-gay policies for very small savings.”
While the transgender coverage will not be included in the benefits plan for the 2011-2012 academic year, Penn “will continue to evaluate the possibility of adding transgender health benefits to our plans in the future,” Ryan wrote.