Del. Danica Roem’s bill to ensure transgender Virginians receive equal treatment by their health insurance plans raised some objections from conservatives, but nonetheless passed both houses of the General Assembly.
Anytime the LGBTQ community gets too close to obtaining equal rights, there’s always someone out there to tell us that we’re “going too far.” Sadly, the current General Assembly session is no exception.
Currently at issue is HB 1429, a bill introduced by 13th District Delegate Danica Roem, who by now I shouldn’t have to tell you is the first openly transgender state-level elected official in the entire country. She introduced this bill to allow transgender Virginians equality in health care by preventing health insurance companies from denying or adding extra costs to specific procedures or overall health plans obtained by trans people in Virginia. In other words, your health insurance company can’t upcharge you because you’re trans, or add extra costs to your hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery, or any other trans-related medical costs.
This is pretty straightforward — at bare minimum, LGBTQ Virginians should be able to expect that their health insurance companies will treat them the same as they treat any other Virginian, and bill them accordingly. While the legal arguments around whether the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition of discrimination against any individual on basis of sex applies to trans people are still ongoing, the final regulations released by the US Department of Health And Human Services at the time of the ACA’s passage specified that the rule would be enforced on the basis of gender identity.
So at the federal level, something like this is at least arguably already in force. However, Roem’s bill would simply ensure that, regardless of any Supreme Court rulings in the coming months, that protection is specifically laid out by law in Virginia. And the bill enjoys the support of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, so it’s not seen as a drastic action by Virginia’s health insurance providers.
It hasn’t been seen that way by our elected officials in the General Assembly, either — or at least, not the Democrats. The bill passed in the House of Delegates by a party-line vote of 54-41, made it out of Senate committee on Monday by a 12-2 vote, and passed the full Senate on Thursday by a 22-18 vote. It’s now headed to Governor Northam’s desk.
But before that last vote took place, and true to form, religious conservatives were on hand to raise objections. In testimony against the bill on Monday, Family Foundation of Virginia legislative counsel Josh Hetzler said, “We’re creating a new category of personhood,” while Family Foundation president Victoria Cobb claimed in an email to the Virginia Mercury that the bill’s acceptance of self-identified gender identities took the state outside the bounds of science.
“How can anyone know how to provide medical direction to someone who claims they are an unknown combination of male and female?” she wrote in the email to the Mercury. “Why should the insurance company bear the liability to cover unexplored areas of medicine?”
Fortunately for us, these arguments did not carry much weight in the Virginia Senate this week. In response to Virginia Catholic Conference founding director Jeff Caruso’s contention that the ruling in the 2014 case that allowed Hobby Lobby an exemption to ACA regulations requiring employers cover contraception should also allow for religious exemptions to this ruling, Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Dick Saslaw told Caruso that ruling had specifically been tailored to only apply to contraceptives.
Meanwhile, according to the Virginia Mercury, fellow committee member Senator Lionel Spruill rolled his eyes and implied that representatives of the Catholic Church lacked the moral authority to make such an argument. “One church should be the last to say that kind of stuff, given what’s going on,” Spruill said.
Roem herself, also present at the committee hearing, was just as quick to let those with objections know exactly where she stood, saying according to the Virginia Mercury that she refused to “explicitly deny care” for trans patients under Virginia laws. Additionally, she pointed out, the ACA policies in place are often not sufficient to ensure that trans people are receiving adequate care. “Even post-2017, transgender people are given misinformation about what these policies actually are,” she said.
Afton Bradley, care coordination manager for Virginia League of Planned Parenthood’s transgender health care program, confirmed that current ACA protections are insufficient to protect trans patients from denials of coverage, telling the Virginia Mercury that around a third of Planned Parenthood’s trans patients are denied coverage by insurance plans, sometimes based on clerical errors that insurers are often unwilling to correct even after several weeks of negotiations.
“Unfortunately, that leads to a lot of our patients paying out of pocket or going without medication,” Bradley told the Virginia Mercury. “And we know that when patients don’t have access to transition care, there are serious consequences to their health.”
Roem summed up the argument in favor of the bill very succintly on Twitter. “LGBTQ health care is health care. It is not optional,” she wrote. “Cover it. Insure it. And have a nice day.”
Top Photo via Danica Roem/Facebook