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An option to launch the project is to make chest binders available at the LGBT Center.

Credit: Idil Demirdag

The Undergraduate Assembly plans to launch a new initiative pushing Penn's health insurance provider to cover the cost of chest binders for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students by fall 2020.

College junior and UA Representative Cam Duran said the UA plans to petition insurance coverage for chest binders when the Student Health Insurance Advisory Board, which Duran sat on last year, reconvenes in the spring to determine exactly what the Penn Student Insurance Plan can cover for the 2020-21 academic year.

Chest binders are compression undergarments worn to flatten breasts in order to create a more masculine appearance, according to The New York Times. The Times added that they are not considered medical devices and can be purchased online and in stores. 

Duran said the initiative was inspired by a program offered at Cornell University in which students enrolled in a Cornell student health plan or who pay the Student Health Fee can receive up to two chest binders each semester with no copayment. Duran said that Penn should be able to provide chest binders without placing a financial burden on students to help improve transgender students' mental health and gender affirmation.

Duran said Penn's insurance provider, Aetna Student Health, covers gender affirming services such as surgical and hormone replacement therapy and counseling treatment but does not cover chest binders. Similar to Aetna, Student Health Services does not provide chest binders.

Students can satisfy the health insurance requirement through either a private plan that fulfills University criteria or enrollment in the PSIP offered through Aetna.

Credit: Julio Sosa

Dr. Erin Cross says chest binders are a “medical necessity” for transgender healthcare.

Duran said, however, chest binders can be extremely expensive for students – especially those from a low-income background or lack family support – who are on an insurance plan that does not cover chest binders, such as PSIP. 

College junior James Aykit, who has worn a chest binder in the past, said they were gender-affirming and helped make him feel more confident and secure in his body.

“I personally felt a lot more comfortable going outside and wearing certain types of clothing with a chest binder than with some other underclothes that are more related to femininity,” Aykit said.

College sophomore and UA Committee Director for Equity and Inclusion Mary Sadallah said the UA is currently working with Aetna, SHS, and the Director of the LGBT Center, Erin Cross, to get the project off the ground.

Cross described chest binders as a “medical necessity” for transgender healthcare. Cross said when students lack access to chest binders, they bind in other ways that are more conducive to injuries, rashes, and other medical complications. 

“We want students to be able to be students no matter who they are and not worry about those kind of things,” Cross said.

Sadallah said the UA is also exploring other options to ensure the project's launch such as making chest binders available for students at the LGBT Center.

Duran and Sadallah said the UA is optimistic about the prospects of launching the initiative next fall.

“Penn really prides themselves on being very gender diverse and gender affirming,” Duran said. “I think this would be an important step for the University to take.”