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Health plan expands to include gender reassignment surgery

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 03:04


The university’s student health insurance plan starting next academic year will offer new benefits for transgender students, expanding coverage to include both hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery.

This will make Tufts the 38th college or university in the country to cover hormones and surgeries for transgender students, according to Senior Director of Health and Wellness Services Michelle Bowdler. The current health plan, brokered by Aetna Student Health, provides coverage for hormone therapy but excludes other benefits for transgender students, she said.

“I think it’s difficult for all of us who care about the health and safety of all of our students to feel like there’s a group of students who have a significant health need for their well-being that is specifically targeted in the insurance policy,” Bowdler said.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center has been working with the Health Service staff for years to incorporate these benefits into the plan, Director of the LGBT Center Tom Bourdon said.

“This is clearly stated in the policy as something that is there for individuals that need access to it,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be night and day, what we have as of next year compared to what we are offering currently.”

Erin Dimson-Doyle, a freshman who spoke about the impact of the new plan at the LGBT Center’s 20th anniversary celebration on April 6, highlighted what the change shows about the university’s commitment to transgender rights.

“On the university level, it’s just amazing to see a dedication to acceptance,” she said. “It really does provide a sort of support system that is necessary.”

After completing a bid process to change insurance carriers — which Tufts undergoes every three to five years — UnitedHealthcare StudentResources was selected to replace Aetna beginning next fall, Bowdler said.

Adding benefits for transgender students to the UnitedHealthcare plan did not significantly increase the bid price, she explained.

“Given the really competitive bid that [UnitedHealthcare] had given us, it was really the perfect year for us to say, ‘Can we add this in?’” Bowdler said. “Even adding it in, the bid price was less than the nearest competitor.”

The cost of the student health plan will increase next year by nine percent for the approximately 25 percent of undergraduates and 50 percent of graduate students under the university’s insurance, according to Bowdler.

“It’s still incredibly affordable when you compare it to other plans,” she said. “People always focus on the cost of insurance, but we also need to pay attention to the health needs of all students.”

Under the new insurance there will be no cap on funds that can go toward trans-related treatments and surgeries, Bourdon said, emphasizing the plan’s comprehensiveness.

“There are not many schools that offer extensive transgender health plans, so we’re going to be at the forefront,” he said.

Although generally fewer than 10 students per class self-identify as transgender on the survey that seniors fill out upon graduation, many who have undergone the transition from one gender to another do not choose to openly identify as transgender, Bourdon said.

“There are always more trans people out there than we may realize, who just may not be outwardly telling people,” he said. “These students ... might personally not connect with the term ‘transgender’ for various reasons, or they might feel that transitioning was something they did in the past and now they just choose to identify with the gender marker in which they are comfortable being associated with by others.”

Bowdler said that some transgender students may not choose to take advantage of the benefits through Tufts, but she hopes that making the option available will foster a more inclusive environment.

“It tends to be a benefit that is used not that often ... but the importance of having it in and the impact of having that benefit available is huge for the people who need it,” Bowdler said.

Bourdon believes the new transgender coverage will attract more students to Tufts, particularly those dealing with gender identity issues.

“I think this is something that will make our school so much more appealing to prospective individuals who are looking to go to a college where they might ... have intentions of transitioning while they’re in school,” he said.

Dimson-Doyle elaborated on how the announcement has affected her personally.

“I think it means a lot more to me in terms of their adding it, rather than actually taking advantage of it,” she said. “It’s just another thing that makes me feel comfortable here.”

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