University of Arkansas Abruptly Removes Transgender Health Benefits

transgender_caduceusWith all of the professed solidarity still lingering from last week’s historic Women’s March, it is now more important than ever that we stand behind Teri Wright.

Teri Wright is a transgender woman living in northwest Arkansas. Her wife is employed by the University of Arkansas system. For the last several years they have been advocating for the university to add gender transition care to its employee health insurance plans.
 
To comply with the Affordable Care Act and not give the appearance of discrimination against transgender employees and their family members, the University of Arkansas included, for the first time, gender transition care to its benefits plan.
 
However, the political climate has quickly shifted since our new president, Donald Trump, has taken office. One of his first acts as president was to sign an executive order that weakens the Affordable Care Act by instructing the secretary of HHS to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” parts of the law that would place a fiscal burden on states, individuals or health-care providers. 
 
This coupled with a recent, highly questionable, nationwide injunction by Texas judge, Reed O’Connor that prevents the US Department of Health and Human Services from enforcement actions against providers that discriminate on the basis of gender identity, has given someone at in the University of Arkansas system new backbone to openly discriminate against transgender people.
 
This week, a communication was sent to University of Arkansas employees, by benefits director, Richard Ray:
Human Resources
________________________________
 
Change in coverage for Gender Dysphoria to be effective 1/1/2017
 
In compliance with the Affordable Care Act Section 1557 regulations which were issued mid-year in 2016, the University’s health plan scheduled Gender Dysphoria coverage for implementation on January 1, 2017.  On December 31, 2016, the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a nationwide preliminary injunction on the Affordable Care Act regulations covering gender identity.   More specifically the injunction prohibits Health and Human Services from enforcing regulations addressing gender identity and the coverage of treatment for gender dysphoria.
 
The frequent changes and uncertainty of the ACA regulations are challenging for both health plans and for plan participants, particularly when dealing with coverage issues such as gender dysphoria which involve a long-term plan of treatment.   Given  the most current court ruling, the University will suspend gender dysphoria coverage pending the final legal outcome of the injunction or further clarification of the ACA coverage guidelines.  However, in accordance with the requirements of  the ACA, the plan will cover services received on or before March 6, 2017.
 
Contact Human Resources at 479-575-5351 or hrbenf@uark.edu<mailto:hrbenf@uark.edu> if you have any questions.
________________________________
 
Richard Ray
Benefits Director
University of Arkansas
 
(479) 575-3717
(479) 575-6971 (fax)
 
Of course, nothing in Justice O’Connors injunction prevents the university from providing such benefits to employees and their family, but rather prevents action from being taken for failing to do so. The university seems to see this as a golden opportunity to exercise continued discrimination with impunity.
*If you would like to contact Teri Wright, I have been authorized to give out her email address and phone number to interested media.