Federal Employee Health Plans Can Now Include Transition-Related Health Care

By Parker Marie Molloy

Originally published on Advocate.com June 13 2014 5:33 PM ET

Today, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced that will be removing the existing ban on transition-related healthcare in Federal Employee Health Benefits plans (FEHB). This long-anticipated announcement comes as good news for federal employees who have, until this point been denied coverage of these medically necessary services.

According to Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed, the exclusion was quietly brought to an end as OPM officials sent out a form letter to FEHB insurance providers, alerting them that they would now have the ability to cover gender-confirming procedures like hormone replacement therapy and corrective genital surgeries.

Notably, this step does not explicitly require FEHB insurance providers to cover transition-related procedures, but rather merely suggests that insurance providers can now make their own decisions about whether or not they will provide such treatment in their plans.

"Today's welcome decision by the Office of Personnel Management to remove this descriminatory and harmful exclusion is an important step towards closing the gap in access to quality health care for transgender workers," said David Stacy, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign in a statement. "HRC urges FEHB insurance carriers to include this essential coverage in their plans so that federal workers have access to medically necessary transition-related care."

Federal employee, transgender woman, and trial attorney Emily Prince — speaking on behalf of only herself — argues that this move is actually a step backwards for advocates of trans-inclusive healthcare, and actually codifies discrimination.

.@TransEquality Will you be making clear to the Administration that this isn't *nearly* enough? Outsourced discrimination is still illegal.

— Emily Esque (@keris42) June 13, 2014

Journalist followers: please note that OPMs position here - http://t.co/0lWPyQt97G - is not consistent with 42 USC 18116 nor with Macy.

— Emily Esque (@keris42) June 13, 2014

The letter appears to contemplate that these exclusions are discrimination on the basis of sex but still allow them at discretion of insurer

— Emily Esque (@keris42) June 13, 2014

It feels like there is a very small window to influence the reaction to http://t.co/0lWPyQt97G. Reaction needs to be: NOT. ENOUGH.

— Emily Esque (@keris42) June 13, 2014

http://t.co/F2Cm7cUQLn describes the sort of penny-ante weaksauce "change" that you'd expect if the Administration just wants to look good.

— Emily Esque (@keris42) June 13, 2014

http://t.co/F2Cm7cUQLn - As written, this letter explicitly *condones* trans exclusions and lends them legitimacy they didn't have before.

— Emily Esque (@keris42) June 13, 2014

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that Medicare's blanket exclusion on gender-confirming surgeries is to be removed, declaring that the decades-old policy runs contrary to contemporary scientific and medical standards of care.

This move is the latest step in a growing trend of organizations agreeing with medical consensus and recognizing that transgender health care is, in fact, medically necessary. Public pressure continues to mount in support of transgender-inclusive insurance coverage in both private and public policies.

Parker Marie Molloy