Metro Weekly

New York governor bans insurance coverage for conversion therapy

Executive actions seen as a first step to banning sexual orientation change therapies

Andrew Cuomo - Credit: Diana Robinson/flickr
Andrew Cuomo – Credit: Diana Robinson/flickr

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has announced executive actions aimed at limiting the reach of conversion therapy, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, by banning insurers in New York from covering it and banning its practice on minors in public health facilities.

As announced on Saturday, new regulations from the State Department of Financial Services will prohibit private insurers who operate in New York from providing coverage for conversion therapy given to an individual under the age of 18. Insurers will be advised to inform practitioners who engage in conversion therapy that it should not be provided to minors and that they will not provide reimbursement for such services.

Cuomo’s announced regulations will also prohibit the practice of conversion therapy on minors in any mental health facility that is licensed, funded or operated by the New York State Office of Mental Health, and will prohibit Medicaid from covering the practice as well.

“Conversion therapy is a hateful and fundamentally flawed practice that is counter to everything this state stands for,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New York has been at the forefront of acceptance and equality for the LGBT community for decades — and today we are continuing that legacy and leading by example. We will not allow the misguided and the intolerant to punish LGBT young people for simply being who they are.”

In a statement praising Cuomo’s actions, Renee Binder, president of the American Psychiatric Association, noted that her organization has repudiated the practice of conversion therapy as ineffective and lacking scientific evidence to justify its continued use.

“Governor Cuomo and the State of New York are commended for taking principled and scientific stand,” Binder said. “APA has long recognized that so-called reparative therapy is not a scientifically validated treatment and can, in fact, undermine self-esteem and be hazardous.”

The actions also received praise from several LGBT organizations, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), whose #BornPerfect campaign seeks to to ban conversion therapy on LGBT minors in all states by 2019. 

“We could not be more grateful to Governor Cuomo for standing up to the conversion therapy industry today and protecting LGBTQ New Yorkers from these dangerous and discredited practices,” Samantha Ames, a staff attorney at NCLR and #BornPerfect campaign coordinator, said in a statement.

“The regulations announced today are historic, not only representing the first time a governor has taken executive action to protect youth from conversion therapy, but also ensuring that protection doesn’t stop when they turn 18, Ames continued. “Thanks to the tireless advocacy of survivors, mental health professionals, faith leaders, and youth advocates in New York, we are one step closer to finally closing this cruel chapter of our history. We look forward to other states following Governor Cuomo’s leadership and working together toward the day all LGBTQ children know they were born perfect.”

New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), who is one of the senators who has co-sponsored legislation to prohibit conversion therapy on minors, calls Cuomo’s actions a “welcome announcement.” Gianaris says he hopes the next step will be to follow-through with that legislation, now that it is no longer covered by insurance.

“Anything we can continue to do to discredit this pseudoscience is progress,” Gianaris says. “Nobody needs so-called ‘conversion therapy.’ It’s a widely discredited procedure that is not recognized by credible medical institutions, nor credible psychiatric institutions, nor credible scientific institutions. It’s been pretty consistently debunked by relevant authorities. There’s no reason insurance companies should cover it, there’s no reason that minors should forced to undergo it by their parents, because they don’t want to.”

Asked why the bill has failed to gain traction in the New York Senate, Gianaris points to Republican control of the chamber. Currently, the Senate is split between 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats, with one vacant seat. He hopes the special election to fill the vacancy may resolve that hurdle.

Gianaris, one of several senators whose elections in 2010 allowed pro-marriage equality forces to narrowly pass a bill allowing same-sex marriage, says he has become familiar with issues of importance to the LGBT community and feels that banning conversion therapy on minors is the right thing to do. He also refutes claims by proponents of conversion therapy that banning it will do more harm to people who are genuinely questioning or struggling with their sexual orientation. 

“No one is suggesting that children or adults who want to undergo therapy would be limited or shouldn’t do that,” Gianaris says. “In fact, I would encourage them to do that, if they’re having thoughts of hurting themselves or having thoughts about their identity…But that does not, in any way, justify a so-called therapy that makes things worse, not better, that tells them there’s something wrong with them when there’s not.”

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