King County considering covering sex reassignment operations for employees

by: David Ham Updated:

SEATTLE - As part of King County Executive Dow Constantine's priorities to build equity and social justice, the county is considering covering transgender surgeries through the county's insurance plan. 

Right now, the reassignment surgeries are not covered under the county plan. 

"These are employees that are seeking basic  lifesaving medical care that have traditionally been denied transgender people specifically because they're transgender," said Elayne Wylie, of the Gender Justice League, who is also a transgender person.

County officials are debating whether or not to cover the surgeries now and will discuss the possible change with its Joint Labor Management Insurance Committee. 

According to the Williams Institute of UCLA, the average claim for a sex reassignment surgery is about $30,000. Researchers point out it could take more than one surgery for a gender reassignment. 

In the study, researchers surveyed 34 employers who cover gender reassignment surgeries. 

Key findings include: 

• Eighty-five percent (85%) of the 26 employers that provided information on costs of adding coverage to their existing health benefits plans reported no additional costs to add the coverage.

• Two-thirds of the 21 employers that provided information on actual costs from employee utilization of the coverage reported zero actual costs due to utilization.

• Based on the experiences of surveyed employers, 1 out of 10,000 employees (among employers with 1,000 to 10,000 employees) and 1 out of 20,000 employees (among employers with 10,000 to 50,000 employees) will utilize transition-related health benefits annually when they are available.

• The type, number, and cost of services accessed by individuals will vary, yet as described above, the costs of these benefits, if any, are very low, as is the utilization of the benefit. 

A King County spokesperson said that Joint Labor Management Insurance Committee will likely decide on the policy change on August 19th. 

The policy change would add the benefit for the county's 13,000 employees. 

The city of Seattle changed its insurance policy to cover gender reassignment surgeries in 2012.