Gender confirmation surgery necessary step toward making University wholly inclusive

There has been a lot of recent discussion around the inclusion of gender confirmation surgery (GCS) in the proposed student health insurance plan. While many students require the care that this coverage would provide, and have been working for months to secure this, others have varying levels of reservations. While we can debate the issue from polarized ideological or moralistic standpoints, it is important to remember that this medically necessary treatment could save students’ lives. 

While it may seem controversial, serious discussion about trans* health has been growing significantly in the past decade. In fact, the American Psychological Association recognizes gender dysphoria and its treatment through gender confirmation surgery in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Unfortunately, this dysphoria can have negative implications on students’ physical, psychological, social and academic lives. 

Many of our friends in the Big Ten have taken action on this growing discourse including University of Michigan, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Northwestern University, the Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, and even the University of Illinois at Chicago, where GCS is provided in their student health insurance plans.

I would like to clear up misconceptions of how much the inclusion of GCS in the student health insurance plan would actually cost students. The current proposal will raise the price of the student health insurance plan by roughly $37 for undergraduates to $291, and $48 for graduates to $376. The total cost per student per semester for GCS coverage will be $2.22 for undergraduates and $2.88 for graduates, less than 1 percent of the total cost of student health insurance. As I write this and sip on my $3.88 latte from Espresso Royale I wonder: At what cost do we value human life? 

Additionally, the protest of the cost of GCS in particular — as a seemingly cosmetic procedure — seems fairly peculiar when almost 90 percent of the price increase will go to the mandated Affordable Care Act coverage and related fees, which includes cost coverage for bariatric surgery, chiropractic services and massage therapy. While there are some things that will not be covered under our new student health insurance plan, let us not deny health care rights to our proactive students on these grounds.

Something worth mentioning here is that the University has the lowest health insurance price per student in the Big Ten and will continue to have the lowest price after the coming increase. 

The last time that student health insurance costs were compiled at the Big Ten level was for the 2012-13 academic year, according to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation Student Fee Survey, where the second cheapest plan — which was at the University of Iowa — was still more than three times the price of the plan at the University of Illinois. Students and administrators at the University work tirelessly to ensure that students are provided with quality and affordable health care. 

Some are concerned because GCS is permanent and can be sterilizing. First, it must be noted that the decision to have GCS cannot be made overnight. As per the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People — the global medical consensus on care for trans* people — a student will need to go through at least six months of psychological evaluation by multiple doctors and specialists in order to even qualify for the surgery. Additionally, students will then be required to sign a form of consent — something everyone is allowed to do in regards to their health care when they are legal adults. 

Finally, there are some concerns raised by our student trustee, Michael Cunningham, mostly around the lack of notification or mandated involvement in the student health insurance renewal process. Fortunately for our trustee, there are experts dealing with many aspects of campus life year-round so that he need not be stressed by the continuous and laborious processes of running a world-class university. The discussion of the student health insurance plan was done publicly in committees, town halls and other meetings throughout the year and his presence would have been appreciated. 

Students have been working for months to secure these benefits in our student health insurance plan, and our trans* community has support throughout campus and around the world. Do we deny requested health care to our proactive students because we do not want to give up a cup of coffee, or do we use this opportunity to take a step toward being a truly inclusive Illinois and teaching our students that if they work hard they can make the changes that they want to see at the University? I’m going to fight for the latter.

Justin Ostrowski,

senior in LAS and student senator