Ed note: This post originally stated that HHS is expected to lift the blanket ban on Medicaid; HHS is expected to lift the ban on Medicare. It has since been corrected to reflect this.
As the work of an independent review panel wraps up, the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to end Medicare’s blanket ban on gender-affirming surgeries for trans people. This is a really, really big deal:
Because Medicare guides many insurance industry decisions, eliminating the blanket ban on the procedure could have significant consequences in the private health insurance market for the transgender community, transgender rights advocates say.
Medicare has for decades considered sex-reassignment surgery “experimental,” despite opposition from many major medical professional associations and LGBT advocates, who say the ban denies necessary care to transgender people. The private insurance industry has also been slow to adopt coverage options for sex-reassignment surgery and related care, something advocates say stems from the Medicare ban.
Gender-affirming surgeries for trans folks are basic health care, and access to this health care for the folks who need it is a human right — as much as access to any kind of health care is. This health care can be nothing short of life-saving. Lifting this ban would mean that access to gender-affirming surgeries would increase dramatically — to say nothing of the effect that lifting this ban would have on the private insurance market, much more accessible now due to the Affordable Care Act.
It is hard to overstate how big of a deal this is for trans health. Though it is just one procedure among the myriad health care issues important to trans communities, gender-affirming surgery is, along with abortion, one of the most stigmatized and controversial health procedures around. The lifting of the blanket ban would not only mean unprecedented access, but also be an indicator of a fundamental shift in our society’s view on the humanity of trans people — a shift that has been in the works for years due to the relentless work of trans health activists. And that is a very welcome change.
Verónica thinks it’s about damn time.