A group of transgender Group Health members recently attended an open meeting of the Board of Trustees of Group Health Cooperative (GHC). We expressed concerns over the lack of coverage for transgender health care, which is currently offered to some members but not to all - a company must specifically purchase a “rider” which adds coverage for many transgender health related services. Those members whose companies have not purchased the rider are not offered these services. While we found that the Board was open to listening to our concerns and sympathetic to our cause, GHC did not make any promises. We hope to continue that conversation and secure GHC’s universal coverage of trans health care.
This rider includes coverage for hormones, psychiatry related to transgender health care, lab work related to transgender health care such as hormones, and a number of different gender confirmation surgeries. Without this rider, these services are expressly excluded from coverage. Group Health does cover basic health such as sexual health and physical exams for all of its members, regardless of gender.
While reviewing the GHC governance newsletter, we noticed that GHC has been named a leader in LGBT health care equality. The trans community and our allies are asking GHC to live up to that recognition. As it stands now, GHC is known as a company that talks big but doesn't offer the services it says it does. We don't know of a single trans Group Health patient who has been able to access the transgender health services the company supposedly offers.
This is not only an issue of health care or services offered, but also one of access to information about said coverage. When requesting information about what transgender health services are offered by GHC, those who wrote in to customer service were given the same stock answer. None of them found that answer particularly informative, and when one member pressed the issue, she received a series of emails that were similarly unhelpful and provided no guidance in finding out how to get her employer to buy the trans health rider. If employers don’t know about the rider, and employees can’t get the information to pass on to their employers, how will anyone access this health coverage? We need this care, but before we get it we need to know how and where we can access this care. GHC can fix both issues - lack of care, and lack of information about care - and in doing so, GHC can both provide a necessary service to an underserved community and improve its own reputation.
Just making the rider more available to companies is not an acceptable answer. If an individual’s employer doesn't offer this rider, they must go to HR and ask an administrator if the company covers their health needs. It requires outing yourself as transgender to people who have no real right to your private medical information, and doing so can be dangerous (to health, safety, or employment if gender identity discrimination is not protected against) or at the very least uncomfortable and intrusive.
Transgender people as a group are frequently lumped in with lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, but our needs are vastly different than theirs. Because of this, we are often left behind and forgotten when people are fighting for the rights of LGB"T" people. However, this is not inevitable, and we believe that GHC can help to remedy this issue. As a result, GHC will be seen as a leader in the field of trans health advocacy, and other companies might even follow its lead. But is GHC willing to be a pioneer of the future of equal health care?
This issue is important not only to Group Health members, but also to anyone who believes that trans people deserve universal health coverage. We, transgender people across the country, need this health care. This is not just life-changing health care; it is life saving health care. We need psychiatric care, hormones and the care that goes with them, surgery, and doctors who are trained in working with transgender patients. We have faith that Group Health has the dedication to the trans community needed to solve these problems and end the discrimination we face as Group Health member, and we hope that our community and our allies will join us in this effort.
With this petition, we ask GHC to update its coverage to provide transgender-specific health coverage to all Group Health Members.