Gender confirmation surgery approval unnecessarily forces a majority to pay for a minority


By Brad Barber

You can often see me around campus rotating between contacts and glasses, depending on the time of day and how I felt that morning. Shortly after my vision problem was discovered, I resolved to one day fix it with laser eye surgery, if possible. However, severe financial obstacles block this from happening. 

Despite correcting an ailment that affects 75 percent of Americans, laser eye surgery is generally not covered by most insurance plans. The University’s current student health insurance plan is one that does not cover this. It is deemed an “elective surgery” because, as the name suggests, it is elective. It is easier to wake up each morning and be able to see and to not worry about a contact lens falling out. But there are alternatives to treat the ailment: corrective lenses. 

The University Board of Trustees approved the addition of gender confirmation surgery (GCS) on March 6 to the student health insurance plan for next year. Coverage of GCS is forcing a majority of students to pay for the desires of a minority of students. This brings the University’s health insurance plan into the sphere of covering optional treatments, and doing so in a discriminatory fashion. 

Two main comparisons to GCS — laser eye and plastic surgeries — are not similar to GCS in any way except that all three surgeries are considered “elective” by the current student health insurance plan, and many others. GCS is much more invasive and life-altering than either of these two surgeries, however, all are optional. 

Proponents of the proposal claim that the surgery is not optional, but “necessary.” 

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    This is not so. 

    The American Psychological Association recognizes that individuals electing for GCS do not necessarily have mental disorders but are clinically distressed — they believe themselves to not truly be their natural gender. But the standard practice for most mental illnesses is not to change a body to conform to what the mind believes it to be, but to change the mind. 

    Under the current health insurance plan, individuals with gender dysphoria are not covered for GCS. However, gender dysphoria can be treated under it because GCS is not the only treatment. Support and advising are recognized as alternatives to GCS, with GCS reserved for only the most extreme cases. GCS has been recognized as a solution to gender dysphoria, but it is far from necessary with the alternatives available. 

    The argument against keeping these alternatives as the only treatment is that they do not always work. GCS proponents claimed that individuals suffering from gender dysphoria are more likely to commit suicide without GCS. 

    Those with gender dysphoria are about nine times more likely to attempt to commit suicide than the national average. However, there has not been a conclusive study on suicide rates before and after the surgery. Suicide rates are a problem to counter, but the current alternatives do try to address them. 

    Since GCS is not necessary, and thus optional, inclusion of GCS on the student health insurance plan effectively discriminates against the majority of individuals. 

    How does this amount to discrimination? The plan will now cover this optional surgery, but no plans were announced to cover all other optional surgeries, such as laser eye or plastic surgery. 

    It may be claimed that the offering of GCS is not discriminatory because it is available to everyone that can pass the requirements for it, which is a small portion of the insurance body. The procedure must be the result of at least six months of psychological study by multiple specialists

    However, insurance plans do not exist to cover everything that could be used — they cover everything that could be necessary. Passing the requirements is not proof of its necessity, but that the individual is a candidate. 

    I understand that it could be easier for transgender students to solve whatever ills them with a surgical procedure, rather than fight the physical and mental battles required by medication. It would be easier for me to not use corrective lenses. Just because it is easier does not mean we should force others to pay for it. 

    I am not covered by the student health insurance plan, nor do I plan on ever being so. In light of this decision, I am glad for my circumstances, but sorry for every other dissenter now forced to appease a minority’s desires.

    Brad is a graduate student in Law. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @b_rad_barber.