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Gender confirmation surgery added to student health plan

Justin+Ostrowski%2C+a+senior+in+LAS%2C+speaks+with+the+supporters+after+the+Student+Senate+approved+the+addition+of+Gender+Confirmation+Surgery+coverage+under+student+insurance+as+Sidney+Germaine%2C+a+junior+in+FAA%2C+holds+the+transgender+flag+outside+the+Illini+Union+on+March+6%2C+2014.
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Gender confirmation surgery added to student health plan

Justin Ostrowski, a senior in LAS, speaks with the supporters after the Student Senate approved the addition of Gender Confirmation Surgery coverage under student insurance as Sidney Germaine, a junior in FAA, holds the transgender flag outside the Illini Union on March 6, 2014.

Justin Ostrowski, a senior in LAS, speaks with the supporters after the Student Senate approved the addition of Gender Confirmation Surgery coverage under student insurance as Sidney Germaine, a junior in FAA, holds the transgender flag outside the Illini Union on March 6, 2014.

Justin Ostrowski, a senior in LAS, speaks with the supporters after the Student Senate approved the addition of Gender Confirmation Surgery coverage under student insurance as Sidney Germaine, a junior in FAA, holds the transgender flag outside the Illini Union on March 6, 2014.

Justin Ostrowski, a senior in LAS, speaks with the supporters after the Student Senate approved the addition of Gender Confirmation Surgery coverage under student insurance as Sidney Germaine, a junior in FAA, holds the transgender flag outside the Illini Union on March 6, 2014.

By Megan Jones, Staff writer

Starting in the fall, students will have the ability to take advantage of a surgery that they would not otherwise be able to afford without student health insurance: gender confirmation surgery. 

Chip Austin, a trans* graduate student, plans to take advantage of this coverage, as it will help him with his gender dysphoria, which arises when a person feels uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth.

In March, the Board of Trustees approved the addition of gender confirmation surgery to the student health insurance plan for students at the Urbana campus, despite two votes in opposition. 

Justin Ostrowski, Illinois Student Senator and senior in LAS, and Stephanie Skora, junior in LAS and president of the Campus Union for Trans* Equality and Support, joined the Student Insurance Advisory Committee during the fall 2013 semester to encourage the inclusion of gender confirmation surgery on the student health insurance plan. 

“I am so grateful for the support shown by the board,” Skora said. “I’m glad that they didn’t let any personal or moral views influence them, and that they did the right thing for their students and for the campus.”

Rallies in support were held outside the Board of Trustees meeting on March 6 and the  board’s Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee meeting on Feb. 24. 

On the Urbana campus, the new student health insurance plan’s cost for the 2014-2015 school year, which includes the surgery, will increase 15 percent, or $37 for undergraduates and $48 for graduates. Chicago and Springfield health insurance rates were approved at a 2 percent and 29 percent increase, respectively. 

“If I went to somebody on the street and said, ‘Would you pay $3 to save a life?’ an overwhelming amount of them would say yes,” Skora said. “These surgeries are the only way to correct the gender dysphoria that people have and are an essential part of actually being able to continue their lives.”

Student trustee Mike Cunningham voiced concern against the addition, along with trustee Timothy Koritz. 

Concerns regarding medical ethics rose to the forefront of discussion as committee members discussed the permanent effects of the surgery and their uncertainty that 18-year-olds would be able to make such a decision. Additionally, members had reservations regarding the opinions of students’ parents.

Committee members were also worried that 99.9 percent of the student body will not use the surgery and that some of that same percentage may be morally opposed to it. 

Cunningham said he believed the addition should have gone through a student referendum before being approved to see if students truly supported it. 

However, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano said that in the past, the University has never done a referendum or a student election on tuition, student insurance or mandatory fees. 

Austin said he believes having this coverage will encourage a more trans*-friendly culture on campus. 

“There are a lot of trans* students who are closeted or afraid, and having this coverage there is telling them that it’s okay to be trans* on this campus. And that is very important,” Austin said in March. 

Similar coverage was approved for the Chicago campus last spring, where it underwent consideration for two years, said Chicago campus student trustee Danielle Leibowitz.  

One percentage point of the 15 percent increase is for the gender confirmation surgery, while 13 percentage points of the fees are due to coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act and Illinois state requirements. An additional 1 percentage point covers University administrative costs. Students also have the option of opting out of student health insurance. 

The health care plan will be reviewed next year, as the current plan serves as an “emergency extension.” However, Skora is not worried about the coverage being denied.

“Gender confirmation surgery would never be done unless it is deemed medically necessary by a physician,” Romano said in February. “And if a person needs that surgery and they don’t get it, that could lead to very serious consequences, not the least of which is depression or suicide. So I think that it is, for some of our students, an equity issue and a social justice issue.” 

Other schools within the Big Ten that have already added gender confirmation surgery to its insurance plan include the University of Michigan, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Northwestern University, Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University. 

Megan can be reached at [email protected] and @MeganAsh_Jones.

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