Perspectives on coverage of trans surgery

Feb. 17, 2010, 1:03 a.m.

With the addition next year of transgender surgery coverage to Cardinal Care, Stanford’s student health plan, some students say there are quality-of-life improvements on the horizon for transgender students here.

Some international students, who next year are required to buy into Cardinal Care, are expressing frustration with the plan, whose transgender coverage they say they won’t need.

By and large, however, many students have welcomed the change.

“It is fantastic that Stanford is leading the world in trans rights and equality by making sure that trans students at Stanford are well supported in the student health care plan,” said ASSU executives David Gobaud, a coterminal student, and Andy Parker ’11 in a statement.

The decision to cover transgender surgery aimed to provide adequate medical treatment for students with gender identity disorder, according to Ira Friedman, the director of Vaden Health Center at Stanford.

Friedman said he does not expect the coverage option to be widely used.

“We do not anticipate a large number of surgeries,” Friedman wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “Having this benefit opens the plan to additional expenses, but for the plan as a whole we do not anticipate that the impact will be very costly.”

He said the decision to cover transgender surgical treatments was made after students and staff articulated the transgender community’s needs and concerns.

According to Juno Obedin-Maliver, a fifth-year medical student and co-founder of the Stanford LGBT Medical Education Research Group, the move is a statement toward tolerance and acceptance of the transgender community.

“By providing this surgery, they’re saying that they’re willing to think about and create a welcoming environment for transgender patients,” she said.

Obedin-Maliver said that transgender health care challenges can be many: doctors may refuse to treat a transgender person due to fear, transphobia or inexperience, and without proper insurance, health care costs for transgender people can skyrocket.

“Denying care to transgender individuals is inappropriate and disrespects their diagnosed condition,” Obedin-Maliver said.” By covering this care, we can make sure it’s done in a quality way that avoids complications in the future.”

Charles Syms ’11, an LGBT Community Resources Center student staff member, pointed out that the change allows transgender students to live more comfortably in general.

“There are still many ways in which transgender students face discrimination here,” he said. “For example, changing one’s registered name is an extremely cumbersome process, and students have reported different names appearing on the diploma and the Cardinal Careers recruiting Web site.”

For some international students, however, the addition of transgender surgery coverage raises cost concerns as it coincides with a new requirement that all foreign students buy into Cardinal Care next year.

“Most students in my community (Chinese community) find Cardinal Care super expensive and completely unnecessary as things that would never be helpful to most of us, such as transgender surgery, are now covered,” wrote Crystal Yin, a first-year graduate student in management science and engineering, in an e-mail to The Daily.

Across the bay, UC-Berkeley instated services for transgender members in their Student Health Insurance Plan in August 2009.

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