New York Considers Medicaid Coverage for Sex-Change Surgery

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Only months after becoming the sixth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, the state of New York is once again pushing the cultural envelope by considering a proposal to allow Medicaid to cover transgender surgery and hormone replacement therapy.

The New York Post is reporting that a state panel charged with advising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is asking him to allow taxpayers to foot the bill for transgender residents to get “sexual-reassignment surgery.” The state’s costliest-in-the-nation Medicaid program would cover the tab.

The panel is submitting recommendations to Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team for possible inclusion in the governor’s budget plan.

The proposal is already causing outrage, particularly from conservatives.

“This is an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars,” said state Conservative Party chairman Mike Long. “This is an expensive mandate. We already live in the highest-taxed state in the nation.”

Long said sex-change procedures are cosmetic and encourage permissiveness, adding, “I hope the governor doesn’t push the envelope on this.’’

Leadership in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate are expected to resist the idea.

“It doesn’t seem to be appropriate,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) told the Post.

However, supporters of the new plan say it is in keeping with what the ultra-liberal American Medical Association has ruled on the surgery, calling it a “medically necessary” procedure to help patients with “gender-identity disorder.” They claim that barring the surgery from Medicaid coverage amounts to discrimination against transgendered people.

‘‘We believe Medicaid should cover health care that is medically necessary,’’ said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay and transgender rights advocacy group.

Levi pointed out that at least two other states — California and Minnesota — provide Medicaid coverage for transgender surgery and hormone replacement therapy.

He expressed hope that Cuomo would get behind this plan the way he pushed the same-sex marriage bill through the state’s legislature earlier this summer. Cuomo, who supports passage of a transgender civil-rights bill, has already said he will back the Medicaid proposal.

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