Justin Peligri: A health plan for transgender students

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

GW has taken concrete steps to make the campus friendlier for gay, lesbian and bisexual students over the past few years. For instance, there’s now gender-neutral housing, an LGBT minor and an LGBT Resource Center.

But GW is letting the transgender community down. It is forgetting about the “T” in LGBT.

Just across town, American University announced last week that student insurance plans will cover 80 percent of the costs of sex reassignment surgery and associated treatments starting this year.

This is great news for transgender students at American, who might not otherwise be able to afford transgender medical treatments, which the Human Rights Campaign says “should be considered medically necessary, reconstructive and not cosmetic.”

But that guidance, endorsed by the American Medical Association – the largest group of doctors and medical students in the nation – seems to fall on deaf ears on many college campuses, including our own. Only about three dozen colleges, including New York University and Cornell, cover sex reassignment surgeries.

Even other colleges that contract with Aetna, an outside student health corporation which GW uses, offer trans services, like UC-Santa Cruz.

For students at these universities, transgender-inclusive policies can have tremendously positive effects. American’s former student government president Sarah McBride, who came out as transgender in May 2012, praised her university’s move, even though she graduated before the new policy went into effect.

“I felt really proud of the institution I was graduating from,” she told American’s student newspaper, The Eagle.

For trans GW students looking for an affordable way to cover treatments, there’s no good news to report.

The question for GW becomes: Does it take a transgender Student Association president to achieve this important step for diversity and inclusivity? It shouldn’t – especially since it seems like, slowly but surely, institutions that want to be modern and progressive will need to offer inclusive health insurance.

The University already has the means to include transgender-inclusive benefits.

Under the existing student health insurance policy students are allocated $2 million maximum per condition, per year, according to the Student Health Service website.

University of California at Santa Cruz allocates a lifetime maximum of $75,000 for sex reassignment surgery. That’s significantly less than GW’s maximum limit, so it shouldn’t be too costly or too unrealistic of a service for GW to offer. American boasts that its policy would not raise premiums “more than a matter of pennies,” according to a press release.

It’s an incredibly small price to pay to relieve the significant financial burden a transgender student must endure to pay for this life-changing surgery or related treatments.

For administrators, the decision revolves around whether or not they agree with equal rights advocates who say the surgery is essential.

So what’s another incentive here, beyond promoting equal rights? Well, GW’s leaders seem to care about rankings. But if they’re so interested in getting the University’s name on the top of lists that matter, they should focus on Campus Pride’s list of the “Top 10 Trans-Friendly Colleges and Universities.” Schools like NYU and some of the UC schools are on this list – in part because of their inclusive insurance programs.

We aspire to be similar to these types of schools in many other areas. How about this one?

Logistically speaking, insurance for sex reassignment surgery shouldn’t be too far off on the horizon. But we need to agree that this is a problem worth solving first.

Justin Peligri, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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