Metro Weekly

Bill to ban anti-transgender discrimination in health insurance introduced in Virginia

Del. Debra Rodman's HB 1466 would require coverage of "medically necessary" treatments

Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico – Photo: Facebook.

Reproductive rights and LGBTQ advocates in Virginia have announced new legislation to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for medically necessary transition-related expenses.

First-term Del. Debra Rodman (D-Henrico), has introduced HB 1466 to prohibit such discrimination, earning her praise not only from longtime LGBTQ rights organization Equality Virginia, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia as well.

The chief co-patron of the bill is Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas Park), the first transgender woman elected to the Virginia General Assembly.

“I put forward HB 1466 because I care about the transgender community and know they deserve access to the same medical care I have,” Rodman said in a statement.

“Despite federal attempts to protect doctors who seek to discriminate against LGBT people, I know we can do better here in Virginia,” added Rodman, referring to the Trump administration’s introduction of a new HHS rule that allows health care workers to refuse to provide certain treatments to which they have religious or moral objections, and a new agency division that enforces that rule. LGBTQ advocates have been harshly critical of the rule, noting that transgender people would likely be among the first to be denied care under such an exemption.

As written, the bill would prohibit insurers from denying or limiting coverage to a transgender person because their gender identity or sex assigned at birth is different from the one to which such health services are ordinarily or exclusively available. Examples of this type of prohibited discrimination could include a transgender man denied coverage for a mastectomy or a transgender woman being denied hormones

The bill would ban discrimination in health insurance coverage on the basis of gender identity. It would also prohibit insurers from attempting to charge transgender people higher premiums to cover transition-related care expenses, especially if a similarly-situated cisgender person could get the same treatment without paying higher premiums. 

Lastly, the bill requires health carriers to assess medical necessity according to nondiscriminatory criteria that are consistent with current medical standards. That means that if gender confirmation surgery or hormones have been prescribed by a medical doctor as “medically necessary” to treat a person’s gender dysphoria, for example, the health carrier cannot refuse to provide coverage for that treatment.

“Navigating the health care system can be incredibly challenging for transgender patients who face systemic inequities, including cost-related hurdles, stigma, discrimination, and the outright denial of care,” Paulette McElwain, the CEO of Virginia League for Planned Parenthood and chair of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia’s board, said in a statement.

“We see the struggles our transgender patients face when seeking insurance coverage, and we are proud to advocate for HB 1466 that would remove discriminatory barriers to the health care they need,” McElwain added.

During her campaign for the House of Delegates — and since, despite partisan claims by Republicans angry over her victory last fall — co-patron Roem has focused almost exclusively on non-LGBTQ issues. However, when she was asked about it on the campaign trail, she admitted that she was forced to spend thousands out-of-pocket to cover the cost of her hormones when her insurance wouldn’t, even though the hormones were deemed a “medically necessary” treatment by her doctor.

James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, hailed the bill as necessary to ensure transgender people are able to access the same health care services as their cisgender counterparts.

“Transgender people deserve the same access to health care as everyone else,” Parrish said in a statement. “Many of Virginia’s major corporations already offer their employees transgender-inclusive health care coverage, and everyone should have the same opportunity for coverage, no matter where they work.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com