Vanderbilt adds gender reassignment surgery to student health coverage

Amber Athey
Investigative Reporter

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  • Vanderbilt University is adding coverage for transgender health services to its student health insurance coverage.
  • The university has not yet determined exactly which procedures will be covered, but other universities with similar policies pay for hormone therapy, gonadectomy, and genital reconstructive surgery.
  • Commodores on a student health care plan will now pay premiums for gender reassignment surgery thanks to Vanderbilt’s decision to cover transgender health services starting this year.

    The Gallagher Student Health Center at VU does not currently have a specific list of what procedures would be covered by the insurance change, as the policy has yet to be approved by the state. However, universities with similar policies, such as the University of Arizona, generally cover hormone therapy, behavioral health services, mastectomy, gonadectomy, and genital reconstructive surgery.

    “Our institutions of higher learning exist to graduate students who are career ready and are prepared to compete in the global economy, not to play politics by providing insurance coverage of medically unnecessary procedures while raking in federal grants.”   

    [RELATED: UWM offers 'voice feminization therapy' to help students 'live their gender identities']

    It is possible that VU will choose to cover additional surgeries that are considered cosmetic, including breast augmentation, hair removal, vocal modification, and rhinoplasty. Vanderbilt already covers transgender surgeries for employees, and also recently introduced a third-person pronoun of “they/them” in the 2015-2016 Student Handbook.

    According to The Tennessean, RJ Robles, a transgender graduate student who does not identify as a man or a woman but is considering breast augmentation, was disappointed when “they” (Robles prefers the newly-recognized pronouns) found out a breast augmentation was not covered by their student health insurance.

    “I was going to basically have to put my transition on hold,” Robles said.

    The group responsible for conducting an annual review of student health insurance “quickly recommended expanding coverage,” noting that approximately five to eight transgender students are treated by the student health center each year. Cynthia Cyrus, Vice Provost for Learning and Residential Affairs at Vanderbilt, said the decision was “relatively non-controversial” and “not deeply debated in any way.”

    In response, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) released a statement on June 8 criticizing the “painfully obvious lack of common sense” shown by Vanderbilt, saying, “Our institutions of higher learning exist to graduate students who are career ready and are prepared to compete in the global economy, not to play politics by providing insurance coverage of medically unnecessary procedures while raking in federal grants.”

    Matt Colleran, a student at Vanderbilt and host of the radio show “The Conservative VU”, echoed Rep. Black’s concerns that the decision was not based on logic, telling Campus Reform, “I have never met a transgender student, so the thought that students on the university health plans are being forced to pay for something that may affect one student every ten years is absolutely absurd.”

    Colleran also said the lack of debate reflected the lack of awareness surrounding the potential policy change. “There was no organized opposition to this policy because we had no idea that such a policy was even being considered,” he said.  “The news caught me by shock when I saw it.”

    The university admitted to Fox 17 the decision was a “political statement”, but also described it as “a reasonable move in the right direction.”

    Vanderbilt’s policy change follows a wave of other universities offering transgender benefits through university health insurance. The Ohio University decided to expand transgender health coverage to its employees in late May, costing the university an additional $120,000 for health insurance each year.

    According to Campus Pride, seventy-two colleges currently offer coverage for hormonal therapy and gender reassignment surgeries.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey



    Amber Athey

    Amber Athey

    Investigative Reporter

    Amber Athey is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Economics, and is currently a member of the 2016-2017 Koch Associate Program. 

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