PULLMAN, Wash. --May 03--The committee that recommends changes to student health coverage at Washington State University will consider including hormone replacement therapy in insurance plans next year.
The change was suggested by representatives from the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Allies committee of the Associated Students of WSU.
Through hormone replacement therapy, transgender patients use hormones such as testosterone and estrogen to modify secondary sex characteristics like facial hair and breasts.
Christina Low, a graduate student, chairs the Counseling and Student Health Advisory Committee that assists in the annual evaluation of student insurance plans. She said GLBTA students have requested hormone therapy coverage for three years.
"It has been a kind of consistent point of wanting to put it into the insurance plan," she said Tuesday. "However, it's kind of been unfortunately overshadowed by all the other stuff going on."
Since 2010, the advisory committee has focused on complying with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Low said there wasn't time to consider further adjustments. The committee will meet this summer to begin considering next year's coverage, and, Low said, the therapy will be discussed.
"Students would likely need to be polled to see how many were in favor of adding this benefit and how many students would like to utilize this benefit," Low said. "This polling would be necessary, as benefits cannot be added a la carte and must be added for all those on the plan, not just those who plan to use the services."
She estimated that students' annual health insurance costs would go up $3 to $4 if the therapy were added to the plan.
"It wasn't a ton, (but) it is another additional cost," Low said. "So it'd be something students would have a right to have input on."
WSU senior Matthew Long-Rhyne, representing the GLBTA committee, raised the therapy question at the committee's April meeting.
"I know it hasn't been done in the past three years, but next year (we'd like to) get HRT on the insurance plan," Long-Rhyne said. "It needs to get done. A lot of trans(gender) people are coming in and can't afford it."
According to WSU Health and Wellness Services, HRT can cost anywhere from $15 to $120 per month. Prescriptions for it can be filled on campus, but Long-Rhyne said the cost could prevent some students from getting the medicine they need.
"For many trans(gender) persons, hormones could be the decision (between) life or death," Long-Rhyne said. "Many trans(gender) persons feel extreme dysphoria, and it can really only be 'fixed' by taking hormones and getting surgery."
Not all transgender individuals choose to take hormones, but Long-Rhyne said for many people the therapy begins the transition to the gender with which they identify.
"For many trans(gender) persons, getting hormones is the first step on their way to becoming physically who they are," Long-Rhyne said. "The benefits of adding an HRT plan to the school's insurance plan more than outweigh the risks."
He did not know how many students would benefit from HRT coverage, saying statistics are "scattered."
"Numbers can be under-reported because of the entire spectrum of where trans(gender) people are in their transition and how they feel about disclosing information," Long-Rhyne said. "I know of at least three persons that would benefit (from HRT) on this campus."
There could be others, he said.
Long-Rhyne said universities like WSU need to take a more progressive approach to being inclusive of people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations or gender identities.
According to the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, 15 colleges and universities cover hormones that are considered part of a transition-related medical expense. The Institute includes the University of Washington among 26 colleges and universities that cover hormones as well as gender reassignment or confirmation surgeries.
Katie Roenigk can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 301, or by email to kroenigkdnews.com.
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