The New School’s health insurance benefits committee could soon expand coverage for university faculty and staff to include transgender benefits by the fall, said New School administrators.

The benefits committee plans to meet with UnitedHealthcare, the company covering university employees, some time in the summer or early next fall to discuss adding these benefits to the plan.

“Coverage for transgender benefits is currently going through our benefits evaluation process to determine whether it should be included in our 2016 benefits plan,” said Denise Radicone, director of benefits for human resources.

“Because we are a tuition driven university and maintain a self-funded benefits plan, the benefits committee has to carefully evaluate any possible addition in coverage and then weigh it against the impact such additional costs would have on benefit premiums paid by employees. These costs also have to be balanced across the costs of running the university,” said Radicone.

Currently, the faculty and staff health insurance plan does not provide transgender health care coverage, like hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries, according to human resources officials.

“I was surprised it wasn’t included in [employee] plans because The New School has paid attention to the plight of transgender individuals – gender neutral restrooms, preferred name options, a well publicized event hosting Laverne Cox, etc.,” said a transgender New School employee who recently paid out of pocket for their own gender reassignment surgeries. The employee chose to withhold their name because New York state does not have any legal provision for protecting employees from termination on the basis of their gender identity.

New York state law requires insurance companies to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders, such as gender dysphoria, the medical term for those who feel that their biological sex does not match their gender identity.

However, these laws do not apply to self-insured group health plans, wherein the employer directly negotiates the terms of coverage with the healthcare provider. The university’s faculty and staff health insurance plan falls under this category.

Students, however, do have access to transgender benefits, officials said. “The [student] policy does cover surgical and nonsurgical transgender services, for students enrolled in the full plan, under the current 2014-2015 policy year,” said a representative from Aetna Student Health, the company covering university students. The terms of the 2015-2016 school year plan have not yet been solidified, they said.

About three years ago, New School’s Student Health Services department lobbied to Aetna to add transgender benefits for students enrolled in the university’s health insurance plan, according to Rachel Knopf of Student Health Services.

“We asked Aetna to include transgender benefits in our policy for the 2013-2014 school year. They added the benefits and the addition did not affect our yearly premiums,” said Lisa LaTragna, another Student Health Services employee.

In March, Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with the New York State Department of Health, enacted a new regulation ending the 17-year-long exclusion of transgender health care coverage for those insured by the New York Medicaid program. This makes New York the ninth state to legally require transgender health care coverage, said The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

“New York has always been a progressive leader and ensuring that all New Yorkers, regardless of gender identity, are treated fairly will continue this legacy,” Cuomo said.

While New York legislators continue to fight for transgender rights, members of The New School community are doing the same. A group of Public Engagement students have submitted a proposal to the New Challenge, a “school-wide ideas competition,” for “The Healthy Transition Project,” a program aimed at guiding and supporting students through the transitioning process.

The group’s New Challenge project webpage states, “The process of transitioning is complicated. What should be a really powerful and affirming part of a trans person’s life is anything but that – many people feel frustrated with their doctors, consumed by the paperwork, and overwhelmed by the legal and healthcare systems they must navigate. Our goal is to make it simple and clear.”

As for New School faculty and staff seeking similar support, human resources said any additions to the plan will be announced and made available by the fall.

The changes come a little too late for those university employees who already went through the process, but they’re looking forward to the change.

“I know I’ll probably never get my $10,000 back, but it’s good to know that hopefully other people in the future won’t have to suffer the same financial setback,” an employee said.

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