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Duke University will cover sex change surgery on student insurance

Duke University’s decision to include coverage of sexual reassignment surgery in its student health insurance plan starting next year might prompt UNC-system schools to offer the same.

Ken Pittman, chief operating officer of UNC-CH Campus Health Services, said the University has previously discussed the possibility of including the coverage in its health insurance.

He said the UNC system will be operating under the same insurance provider as Duke, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, next year — meaning the discussions will likely continue.

“This is positive in terms of us moving forward and being able to evaluate this in subsequent years,” he said.

Administrators initially introduced the idea of covering sexual reassignment surgery in Duke’s student health insurance plan before students took up the cause, said Duke’s Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek.

She said the university began offering hormonal therapy and counseling a few years ago, then approached BlueCross BlueShield about the possibility of covering the surgery.

BlueCross BlueShield approved the idea, and the student health advisory committee recommended the plan to the university, she said. The recent change will affect the cost of the plan by less than half of a percent, she added.

“We are very committed to supporting all students,” she said.

Duke will be one of the first universities to offer the coverage, along with other schools such as Brown University, she said.

Pittman said UNC-CH has not pursued sexual reassignment surgery as a benefit for students because it would have to be approved by all 17 UNC-system campuses.

Few institutions and employers in the country include sexual reassignment surgery as part of their insurance plan, he said.

He said UNC-CH’s plan covers psychological support for transgender students, but not the hormonal aspects or the actual surgery.

While sexual reassignment surgery will not be a benefit next year, Pittman said UNC-CH plans to continue advocating for the coverage.

He said the University would like to see the benefit evaluated and eventually included in the plan. There’s not enough data to determine how it would affect the plan’s cost, he added.

Junior Kevin Claybren, an advocate for gender-neutral housing on campus, said transgender students on campus should have all their medical needs met — whether that includes surgery, receiving hormones or other treatments.

He said the University has been working toward a safe environment for gay and lesbian students, but could do more. The proposal would also likely face opposition at the state legislature, he said.

“I think we should be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “The fact that there is an active exclusion is a problem.”

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