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Councilors propose change to health insurance

A City Council proposal supported by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh would allow city workers seeking gender reassignment surgery to have their health care covered by insurance policies. GRAPHIC BY EMILY ZABOSKI/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

A City Council proposal supported by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh would allow city workers seeking gender reassignment surgery to have their health care covered by insurance policies. GRAPHIC BY EMILY ZABOSKI/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston City Councilors Michelle Wu and Ayanna Pressley released a proposal Monday, backed by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, to include gender reassignment surgery in the health insurance coverage plans provided to city workers.

The proposal is an effort to help people the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies as having Gender Dysphoria. Wu and Pressley have proposed that health insurance should cover gender affirmation surgery to allow city workers to change to the gender with which they identify. Experts at the American Medical Association have deemed this treatment medically imperative, the ordinance stated.

“The City of Boston should set the standard as being an inclusive workplace to attract the most talented and committed employees,” Wu said in a Monday release. “The goal of this ordinance is to ensure comprehensive healthcare coverage for all municipal employees, regardless of gender identity or expression. It’s the best economic policy and the right thing to do.”

The proposed insurance-backed treatment would cover health services, gender-affirmation services and hormone therapy, the release stated. If approved, the program would mandate that any city-hired insurance companies pay for these medical services and operations.

While the cost of the ordinance has not been disclosed at this time, James Chisholm, Pressley’s former chief of staff and current public affairs consultant, said the cost is minimal compared to the resulting impact of not creating the program.

“The cost is negligible, and by not doing this, the human cost is going to be far greater,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about cost. It’s about human dignity and being able to live life with respect.”

Chisholm said this was an issue Pressley fought to solve throughout her campaign for city councilor.

“It is something the city should do and it’s a matter of doing what’s right. I had worked with Councilor Pressley during her campaign and it was something that was a major part of her platform,” he said. “Those who are opposed like to make it a controversial bill, but it’s really quite simple.”

Brian Camenker, founder of MassResistance, said their group is a conservative organization that protects people from “destructive programs,” and this proposal is an example of political officials choosing ratings over scientific validity.

“It’s a sad example of science fiction over science, based on political nonsense and political quackery,” he said. “It is clear that they’re doing this to please a national homo-activist group, the Human Rights Campaign. They’re doing this to get a 100 percent rating, for political reasons instead of medical reasons.”

Camenker rejected the idea that city workers could acquire depression or suicidal thoughts if gender reassignment surgeries are not covered by their health insurance. Instead, he said, being transgender is an issue of mental health within itself.

“The medical community has also considered gender identity confusion as a mental health problem,” he said. “Political pressure may cause them to change what they exactly call it, but it is a mental health problem. What other mental illness is treated by amputated parts of the body?”

Kara Coredini, executive director of MassEquality, said their organization is appreciative of Wu, Pressley and Walsh for their efforts to improve gender equality in the city.

“This ordinance is about fairness,” she said in a Tuesday email. “It’s in line with Boston’s existing nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations, and it’s just the Commonwealth’s latest step toward ensuring that discrimination is eliminated. Studies have shown that ensuring equity in health care coverage for transgender individuals improves and saves lives.”

Several residents said they support the efforts made toward gender equality, but not everyone feels the city should pay for city workers’ choices.

Cheyenne Clayton, 23, of Dorchester, said city taxpayers should not have to be responsible for the decisions of other people.

“That’s a personal choice,” he said. “You’re born one way, and however you choose to turn out, that’s personal, and it’s a personal expense, not a necessity.”

Dakota Matthess, 19, of Allston, said he is in favor of the ordinance, and he is curious to see if the city government expands their insurance to cover other programs in the future.

“That’s how it should be,” he said. “People should be equal and have a chance to be however they want to be.”

Ava Kirsch, 25, of Fenway, said the inclusion of gender reassignment programs in the health insurance plans of city works is the first step toward demolishing gender inequality.

“I’m all for it,” she said. “I am quite sick of the gender binary. People should be able to do whatever they want.”

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