Sunday, July 17, 2016

West Palm Beach Offers Health Benefits to Transgender Employees

By Jess Swanson 

Broward-Palm Beach New Times
July 12, 2016

Four months after North Carolina lawmakers required transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificates, the City of West Palm Beach has announced that it will now make life a little easier for its transgender employees and their families.

Now the city's health insurance policy will cover gender reassignment surgery, hormone therapy, and other medical benefits. It is the first public employer in Palm Beach County and one of the first cities in Florida (after Miami Beach and St. Petersburg) to do so.

Rand Photo 2013
"The City of West Palm Beach is now one of the best places for LGBT people to live, go to school, work and retire," says Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County's Human Rights Council. "The beauty of it is that we don't have to do a whole lot of lobbying here; our leaders know this is the right thing to do."

After more than 100 anti-transgender laws were introduced this past legislative session, the City of West Palm Beach's new health insurance is its own triumph. After North Carolina and Mississippi passed anti-LGBT laws, West Palm Beach swiftly issued a travel ban to its employees for the both states.  The idea: send a message that it will not tolerate such bigotry. Even Wilton Manors, with the largest percentage of LGBT people on the East Coast, couldn't pass a similar motion expanding benefits to transgender employees at a commission meeting in April - even though more than a dozen residents took to the podium in support.

"Part of my true life story is finding employment and benefits that my child can medically have," Wilton Manors resident Deanna Muniz told commissioners in a heartfelt plea. "My child living as Alina had 100 percent medical benefits...when I found out my child was transgender, and living as Jake, he no longer had them, maybe 30 percent of those benefits."

Wilton Manors commissioner Julie Carson introduced the motion to include health benefits for transgender employees. Four months later, she is still surprised by the lack of support from her fellow commissioners. She believes the motion didn't pass because it would cost employees an extra $6 to $12 per month. (Currently, employees pay between $82 and $151 bi-weekly.)

"I'm so happy to know the [City of West Palm Beach was] able to do this," Carson says. "I still have a bitter taste in my mouth after the motion wasn't successful here. There was such opposition and disdain."

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio could not immediately respond to an interview request about the new health insurance and it's unclear if extra money will be deducted from employees's paychecks to cover the costs.

"Other companies have been doing this for years; it's not a huge cost item," Hoch explains. "There aren't that many people taking advantage of this benefit simply because it doesn't apply to them."

The benefits went into effect in West Palm Beach this past July 1.

According to the city's policy with Cigna, gender reassignment surgery and pre- and post-hormone therapy will be covered for any individual 18 years or older. However, preserving embryos or sperm and a long list of surgeries like breast augmentation, penile prostheses, and trachea shave are not considered medically necessary.

"It's good to see the City of West Palm Beach put their money where their mouth is," says Michael Rajner, who sits on the Broward County Human Rights Board and was a vocal supporter of Wilton Manor's plan. "It demonstrates what it means to be truly supportive of the LGBT community in its entirety." 

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