Berkeley SHIP adds new healthcare benefits for transgender students

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Beginning August 1, University Health Services will add to its transgender student services by providing two new benefits covered by SHIP: fertility preservation and laser hair removal.

According to University Health Services SHIP manager Bahar Navab and medical director Anna Harte, fertility damage is often a result of the hormones used to treat gender dysphoria, the common diagnosis of individuals whose gender assigned at birth does not match their gender identity.

Trans individuals who stop taking gender-affirming hormones in order to get pregnant or produce sperm often experience psychological damage. Fertility preservation offers safer alternatives. The benefits will also be available to students with other medical necessities, such as patients with ovarian cancer.

“Trans and gender nonconforming people unfortunately face not only ignorance but also sometimes stigma on the part of the clinical providers who need to care for them, in part because most clinicians have not been trained in this aspect of healthcare,” Navab said in an email.

According to Navab, the majority of traditional insurance plans currently do not cover many trans services, including male-to-female top surgery and hair removal, as they regard these to be cosmetic services rather than treatment of dysphoria.

In fall 2016, Berkeley SHIP expanded its benefits to include male-to-female top surgery, tracheal shaves and electrolysis, a painful and frequent treatment for hair growth.

Expanding benefits to include laser provides a less painful, less frequent method of hair removal, which according to Navab, is one of the “critically important and often under-supported … treatments for transfeminine people.”

ASUC Senator-elect Juniperangelica Cordova said one of her office’s focuses will be working with the Tang Center in the upcoming year. She said while she believes SHIP is doing a “good job” adding benefits, there is room for improvement in ensuring that trans students have faith in their healthcare providers.

According to Cordova, the solution lies in providing resources to Tang faculty and making sure physicians receive comprehensive training in trans help and being trans-friendly.

“It’s a matter of making sure that everyone who works at Tang is up-to-date in terms of using our names and our pronouns,” Cordova said. “I’m excited to see new procedures and new coverage being added and I’m looking forward to working with Tang this year in making sure trans folks are healthy.”

In addition to working with ASUC, SHIP receives regular feedback from its Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee, or SHIAC, and its transgender care team regarding what services students are inquiring about.

“Berkeley SHIP has been at the forefront of providing transgender benefits,” Navab said in an email. “Future benefit additions will be considered if they are requested by our clients and SHIAC.”

Contact Christine Giuliano at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinegiul.

A previous version of this article incorrectly defined male-to-female top surgery.