A new analysis led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that while most U.S. health insurance plans deny benefits to transgender men and women for medical care necessary to transition to the opposite sex, paying for sex reassignment surgery and hormones is actually cost-effective.
The researchers, reporting online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, say that the cost of surgery and hormones is not significantly higher than the cost of treatment for depression, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS, all of which are highly prevalent in those who are transgender but are not in a position to medically transition to the opposite sex. In 2014, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services began paying for sex reassignment surgery and other transitional care, after a 33-year-ban on covering those costs was lifted.
“Providing health care benefits to transgender people makes economic sense,” says study leader Dr. William V. Padula, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School. “Many insurance companies have said that it’s not worth it to pay for these services for transgender people. Our study shows they don’t have an economic leg to stand on when they decide to deny coverage. This is a small population of people and we can do them a great service without a huge financial impact on society.”
Estimates vary widely but it is believed that between 3,000 and 9,000 Americans undergo sex reassignment surgery each year. Transition medical care can include hormone replacement therapy, mastectomy, plastic surgery, psychotherapy, and more.