Taxpayers could soon be paying for federal employees’ sex reassignment surgeries after the Office of Personnel Management lifted its ban on insurance coverage for the procedures.
The June 13 directive surfaced quietly as a letter to insurance providers, citing an “evolving professional consensus” on whether the surgery is “medically necessary.” Carriers of Federal Employee Health Benefits plans have until June 30 to decide whether to change their policies regarding the procedures, which can cost up to $50,000.
The bureaucratic change came just two weeks after the Department of Health and Human Services authorized Medicare to cover the same surgeries. For men, they can involve castration and genital reconstruction. For women, they can involve mastectomy and the implantation of a prosthetic.
LGBT activists praised the ruling, but some argued that giving providers a choice isn’t good enough. “We think it’s illegal sex discrimination if they exclude care for trans people that they allow other people to have,” said Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. Failing to cover the procedures, Keisling and other activists say, would be at odds with executive orders that attempt to rewrite anti-discrimination laws.
President Barack Obama touted his administration’s continued activism Tuesday before 550 supporters at a Democratic National Committee gala for LGBT donors. The raucous crowd gave the president a standing ovation for a new executive order banning anti-LGBT bias among federal contractors. “Sometimes you guys were a little impatient,” Obama said. “Sometimes I had to say, ‘Will you guys just settle down a bit?’”
Obama proclaimed June 2014 “LGBT Pride Month,” and as it passes the halfway mark, LGBT activists are moving to silence opposition. The Wall Street Journal came under fire for publishing a June 12 op-ed criticizing the transgender movement. “Policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment, and prevention,” wrote Paul McHugh, a former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
McHugh has long protested sex reassignment surgery as a treatment for transgender feelings, successfully shutting down the Johns Hopkins Gender Program in the 1970s. He likens the surgery to performing liposuction on an anorexic girl who thinks she is obese.
Data show up to 80 percent of people who profess transgender feelings—especially children—will change their minds, McHugh said. He advocates “devoted parenting,” not growth-stunting and puberty-delaying hormone treatments that come “close to child abuse.” Furthermore, he writes, post-surgery transexuals have suicide rates 20 times that of non-transgender people.
GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis accused the Journal of rejecting “best practices” for reporting on transgendered people. “They are sacrificing accuracy and integrity," Ellis said. LGBT activists are quick to dismiss McHugh for his Roman Catholic faith and his disagreement with colleagues at the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, which support sex reassignment surgery.
The heart of the issue, though, is that of worldview, McHugh said. “‘Sex change’ is biologically impossible,” and people can only become “feminized men or masculinized women.” McHugh has long disdained the liberal sector of his discipline, calling it “the captive of the culture” in a 1992 essay. By failing to study transgender feelings to learn to treat them, he wrote, doctors “abandon the role of protecting patients from their symptoms and become little more than technicians working on behalf of a cultural force.”