NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Transgender people enrolled in the government-funded Medicare health programme now may be granted gender reassignment surgeries after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lifted a 1981 ban last week.
Civil society and rights group welcomed the government’s decision that recognizes sex reassignment operations as medically necessary and an important treatment for people suffering from gender dysphoria, or people who don’t identify with their biological sex.
“This decision removes a threshold barrier to coverage for medical care for transgender people under Medicare. It is consistent with the consensus of the medical and scientific community that access to gender transition-related care is medically necessary for many people with gender dysphoria,” said a joint statement by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
“The decision by HHS to allow Medicare coverage of gender reassignment surgery is a significant victory for transgender people’s right to basic health care services,” said Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW said the landmark decision was likely to encourage other public and private insurers to adopt similar policies. Nearly 50 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare.
The ruling was prompted by the case of 74-year-old Army veteran Denee Mallon from the city of Albuquerque in New Mexico, who had requested a sex change under Medicare two years ago and whose request was denied as unjustified.
However, rights groups and legal experts stressed the fact that the lifting of the ban doesn’t mean that Medicare enrollees are guaranteed to obtain gender reassignment procedures.
People suffering from gender dysphoria will now be able to submit their request for gender reassignment surgery pending documentation from a doctor certifying the procedure is medically necessary.