HHS expected to lift Medicare’s blanket ban on gender-affirming surgery

Infographic shows that when trans people get the health care they need: mental health improves, suicide rates reduce drastically, medicaid saves money

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.

1bfea3e7449eff65a94e2e55a8b7acda-bpfullVerónica thinks it’s about damn time.

New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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