A mere few years ago, the United States was rolling out policy that would allow transgender people to obtain any necessary medical care associated with being a transgender person. That meant that insurance companies would no longer be able to refuse these people coverage. Their hormone treatment would be handled as any other prescription would, and if they needed to pursue a surgical course of treatment, that would be covered as well, the same as any other procedure. Insurance companies would not be allowed to deny transgender people coverage based on the fact of their “trans-status” alone. For transgender Americans, this was news they had been waiting for their entire lives. Then the political winds shifted and people were caught in the maelstrom those changes created.
Wren Vetens is a transgender woman that fits that example. Two years ago she came out at a conference for the American Astronomical Society. She was 24-years-old at the time and had been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for several months. Everything was going well for her and as Kaiser Health News reports, she was happy with her decision. As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin Madison, she was having her treatment covered since she was a Ph.D. student who worked as a teaching assistant, meaning she was covered in compliance with the Obama administration’s anti-discrimination rule. Vetens thought everything was going well. She had her surgery planned for the summer of 2017.
When Donald Trump assumed office as president, one of the things he targeted for change was the healthcare system and that changed everything for Vetens. Protections set in place to ensure that transgender people got the medical care they needed were stripped away or left un-enforced. This prompted the University of Wisconsin to decide they could drop coverage for transition-related expenses. The specific piece of legislation protecting transgender people is expected to be fully gutted this summer, leaving transgender people with no guarantee they can get the care they need.
For Vetens, this was devastating. She told WPSU News that one of the specific reasons she chose the University of Wisconsin Madison was because, due to their policy in place at the time she applied and accepted a spot, they were transgender friendly. They report that the university board overturned their policy due in large part to pressure applied by Governor Scott Walker.
As both parties hedged their bets in trying to determine what a gender-confirmation surgery was worth, the patient was stuck in the middle with the prospect of hugely varying payments. https://t.co/nfYWSLJTw9— NPR (@NPR) July 26, 2018
As private insurance didn’t pitch in as planned, and although the university made an effort to help in exchange for exposure for their medical program, Vetens was going to be out-of-pocket a sizable amount of money to cover the expenses no one was picking up, in part because no one seemed to know how much any of this would cost, according to KHN News, who characterized the billing fiasco as a “bait and switch.” After telling Vetens that she was covered financially prior to the surgery, the bills came rolling in. Abby Abongwa, a hospital billing official, said they made a mistake.
“That was not supposed to happen. That was an error. That was absolutely an error on our part.”
Despite all the roadblocks in her way, Vetens did eventually get everything cleared up and states she is happy and doing well, as reported by NPR.