Illinois is rolling out plans for Medicaid to cover gender reassignment surgery

Illinois is rolling out plans for Medicaid to cover gender reassignment surgery

A long-fought debate over trans rights and the provision of healthcare has served to widen the gap between liberals and conservatives in America. While the liberal argument champions the choice of the individual, the conservative argument often focuses on the preservation of health, the idea that transexuality is unnatural and the purportedly negative effects of trans-positive values on children.

However, the state of Illinois has firmly chosen one side of the argument, with Governor J.B. Pritzker’s decision that Medicaid will cover gender reassignment. “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and I’m committed to ensuring our LGBTQ community and all Illinoisans have access to that right,” Governor Pritzker is quoted as saying in a statement from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS).

“Expanding Medicaid to cover gender affirming surgeries,” he continues, “is cost effective, helps avoid long term health consequences, and most importantly is the right thing to do. With continued attacks coming from Washington, this administration will always stand with our transgender community and their right to lead safe and healthy lives.”

Governor of Illinois J.B. Pritzker fields questions from the press Credit: Getty

The statement explains that Medicaid “will begin covering gender-affirming surgeries for members under new policies being established.” While Illinois is forward-thinking and predominantly Democrat, it is a bold move from Pritzker nonetheless and the policy change certainly isn’t without its detractors.

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn made clear his belief that any expansion of Medicaid should be avoided but “especially one that defies biology.” He added: “I’m speechless that the governor would do this not through the legislative branch but simply through a rule change.”

State Rep. Darren Bailey has stated that he is drafting legislation to block the policy change: “We do not need the government intruding on our private lives and at the same time we absolutely do not need government spending our tax dollars on programs that are morally offensive to most people.”

A smiling transgender woman Credit: Getty

“First it was the mandating of teaching LGBTQ history to our children and grandchildren,” he added, “and now the State is considering forcing taxpayers to pay for elective surgeries for sex changes. When will this stop?”

Needless to say, the news has also been met with praise from supporters of LGBTQ rights. "We welcome Gov. Pritzker’s announcement that Illinois will cover gender affirming surgery under its Medicaid program," ACLU of Illinois' John Knight said in a statement. "This is a crucial step to respond to the healthcare needs of all Illinois residents, including those who are transgender."

"By putting an end to this outdated exclusion on gender affirming surgery, Illinois now joins a long and growing list of states providing coverage for this critical, lifesaving health care.” He added: "We applaud the Governor for making this important step forward.”

Pride celebrations in Chicago Credit: Getty

Meanwhile, Phoenix Center Executive Director Jonna Cooley has been similarly praising of the move: “Surgeries that may have been prohibitive for them before are now going to be covered by Medicaid, so it gives transgender individuals an opportunity to opt for those surgeries if that’s something they want to do.”

The HFS statement quoted their director, Theresa Eagleson, who has welcomed the new legislation. “For those facing gender dysphoria, every day can be a painful challenge,” she is quoted as saying. “Helping these individuals overcome their struggles through compassionate and comprehensive treatment is the right approach for them and for Illinois. They may not be a major portion of our total Medicaid membership, but the coverage can be so vital for everyone confronting this.”

The statement goes on to explain that it is a cost-effective solution due to the money saved on tackling depression in those with gender dysphoria. The statement also cites that, untreated, the condition can lead to suicide.

A transgender woman faces the camera Credit: Getty

“In studying other state policies,” the statement explains, “the Department found that in addition to addressing the struggles associated with gender dysphoria, gender affirming surgery is also cost-effective. HFS determined that the policies of the State of Vermont particularly offer a comprehensive and appropriate approach and has been using these as a model.”

“Coverage for these procedures serve to prevent negative health impacts,” it continues, “such as depression and suicide. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia offer these services and have not reported significant cost increases. The most recent data available shows that 1,400 of the state's 3.1 million Medicaid members are diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and last year around 2,500 prescriptions for hormone therapy were covered.”

While the new policy has certainly received criticism, it is an encouraging sign for the LGBTQ community that trans rights are gradually moving higher up the political agenda. Ultimately, if the new legislation successfully goes ahead, it will allow a greater number of individuals with gender dysphoria to live an authentic life.