Madison, WI Tensions were high at the Hill Farms State Office Building in Madison yesterday. The Group Insurance Board narrowly voted 5-4 to remove the exclusion for transition-related care from state health insurance plans. Although none who opposed its removal spoke against it in open session, the vote itself exemplifies a split amongst the board in regards to the issue.
The Wisconsin Transgender Health Coalition, a grassroots organization, working to bring justice for trans* health care in Wisconsin, had a contingency at yesterday’s meeting. An event posted on their Facebook page called members to join them for the session in support of the exclusion’s removal. According to Jay Botsford, the Coalition’s coordinator, around 30 or so attended, “most of whom are also trans and some of whom were state employees.”
In the wake of a developing “legal landscape” surrounding trans* rights and federal Medicare rules, the pressure was put on the board to vote in favor of the removal. In a memo issued by the Department of Employee Trust Funds, it was noted that “state worker programs in neighboring states cover transgender services, with restrictions in some cases.” Additionally, several of ETF’s insurers have already been offering transgender coverage in plans for those who do not work for the state.
After spending around two hours in closed session, the GIB returned to the courtroom to make their final decision. “That part of the meeting actually went very quickly,” Botsford remarked. “I think every single one of the supporters in the audience were holding our breath once the motion was raised and seconded.”
The Fight Isn’t Over
Despite this step forward for the trans* community, the other issue of Domestic Partnership Benefits was all but ignored. Chancellors of the University of Wisconsin network composed a letter asking for reinstatement of these benefits. Despite the Board’s suggestion that DFB’s were rendered unnecessary following federal enactment of marriage equality, many still use them. Regardless of sex or gender identity, DFB’s are often still needed, especially for those who rely on their current coverage for disability care.
Botsford expressed outrage at the motion to deny research into this issue, which garnered a vote of 7-3. “The refusal to even allow the ETF to research potential options for adding Domestic Partnership benefits is inexcusable,” ze exclaimed. “This is not only an issue of LGBT rights but also a disability rights issue. So we will keep fighting for this.”
The WI Trans Health Coalition prioritizes eliminating barriers to high-quality, affirming healthcare for all, especially those in the trans* community. Based in Madison, they hold regular meetings regarding a number of facets, namely, Data, Training, Communications, and Advocacy. As to yesterday’s outcome, the overall sentiment was positive and hopeful. “It is a really big win and a positive step forward,” Botsford concluded. “And we are going to keep pushing forward to make sure that every single trans person in the state has coverage for and access to exceptional healthcare.”