Starbucks announces unprecedented, comprehensive health benefits for trans employees

Illustration for article titled Starbucks announces unprecedented, comprehensive em/emhealth benefits for trans employees
Photo: Anadolu Agency (Getty Images)

Starbucks’ health insurance plans have covered gender reassignment surgery since 2012, but earlier this week, the company announced a sweeping new set of benefits for its transgender employees covered by company health insurance. Coverage now includes procedures that were previously deemed cosmetic, including breast reduction or augmentation surgery, facial feminization, and hair transplants.

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Starbucks worked with World Professional Association For Transgender Health (WPATH) for more than a year to come up with a set of benefits that conformed to that organization’s recommendations; Jamison Green, the immediate past president of WPATH who worked with Starbucks on this initiative, said the coffee chain is the first company in the world to request WPATH translate its recommended standards of care into a medical benefits policy.

Green says that while a newly covered procedure like facial hair electrolysis may seem superficial, it could be “a life-saving procedure” for a trans employee. To help trans workers find doctors who will best be able to serve their specific needs, the company employs advocates trained in navigating the gender-transition process, who can help identify providers in-network and assist with making sure claims are covered.

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According to Starbucks’ announcement, for more than a decade the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has tracked whether major employers rated in the Corporate Equality Index offer at least one transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage plan: In 2002, none did. In 2009, 49 did. This year, 750 offered at least one trans-inclusive health plan.

But many of those plans don’t include procedures deemed to be cosmetic, making the Starbucks plan an especially progressive one.

“It makes trans people feel like they are people,” Starbucks employee Tate Buhrmester, who is trans, says in the Starbucks announcement. “Like they matter and their health matters.”

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

rebzelmele
RebZelmele

My company is actually working to implement a transgender medical policy (I think on all coverage policies), and one of the big challenges was apparently how to control cosmetic spending (the dirty little secret of health insurance and Microsoft is that we think our customers are idiots who can’t be trusted not to hurt themselves on our dime, and the appeals we tend to receive have supported this). The solution we came up with is to only only pay for one bite of the apple, such that we will only cover one of each surgery unless the initial transition plan called for a multistep surgery. Basically, we’ll pay for everything it takes for a member to be the gender he identifies as, but the member wanting to be a more attractive member of that gender is his problem.

Of course, one problem is that there are enough advocacy groups that are raring to jump down our throats over a single letter out of place that the policy is stuck in committee hell while the updated cosmetic surgery policies we took mentions of gender transition out of to consolidate into the new policy were published immediately, such that I think we may technically not cover any cosmetic portions of sex change therapy due to what’s currently live. Luckily, all this is probably prior auth, anyway, so you’d already be on the phone with someone who knows to rubber stamp you past that issue.