WASHINGTON (NewsChannel8/WJLA) - Insurance companies in D.C. have been ordered to stop denying coverage to transgender residents seeking gender-reassignment surgery. LGBT activists are ecstatic about the policy ordered by Mayor Vincent Gray. They hope it will end health care discrimination.
The D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking has issued a bulletin, stating that gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition and that various forms of treatment - including hormone therapy and sex-change procedures - must be covered by insurance policies.
"This calls to mind what the Vice President said to the President when the Affordable Care Act passed," said Sterling Washington, Director of D.C.'s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs at an event celebrating the policy pronouncement. "I won't quote the Vice President exactly but 'this is a big deal.'"
Transgender Washingtonians - like Casidy Henderson - are thrilled.
"A lot of people don't understand that the surgeries mean so much because that improves the quality of your life," she said. "It means total freedom to just be who you are and live your life."
The District now joins five states that guarantee such health coverage to transgender patients.
"This is a really important decision for real people in the District," said Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "It means that transgender people who are traditionally very marginalized in society even in the District can make health care decisions with their doctors instead of with their insurance companies."
District officials said the bulletin is actually a clarification of existing law. D.C.'S Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
State Medicaid Director Dr. Linda Elam said, "The perception of the providers and the perception of the beneficiaries may be that we do not cover such services. And we're here to say that we absolutely do."
From Henderson's perspective, this policy will save her and others huge out-of-pocket expenses and the stress that comes with that.
"It would help me a lot because I just started my transition and I'm just coming into my womanhood," she said. "And just to have the insurance and the Government of D.C. to stand behind that gives me so much confidence to just live my life as a beautiful transgender woman."
Trans activist groups note that most insurance companies currently serving D.C. residents already cover these treatments. But they hope this bulletin will close the gap and help educate the local trans community about what's available to them.
They also said they don't believe this rule will result in higher premiums in the District. They pointed to similar policies in other states, where they said increased costs to insurers were minimal.
District officials said any complaints about lack of coverage can be filed with the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking at www.dc.gov.