University of Illinois trustees today approved a student health insurance plan for the Urbana-Champaign campus that will for the first time cover gender reassignment surgery, a benefit they approved for the Chicago campus last year.
The trustees’ 8-2 decision came after about 20 minutes of discussion and followed public comments by two students and an employee who counsels the university’s transgender students.
Trustee Dr. Timothy Koritz and student trustee Michael Cunningham voted against it.
The insurance cost for students will increase about 15 percent this fall, to $582 a year for undergraduates and $752 for graduate students. Between $4 and $6 of the increase is attributed to adding gender reassignment surgery to the insurance plan. The procedure, commonly referred to as a “sex change,” transforms a person’s physical appearance and sexual characteristics to that of the other sex.
The insurance will cover counseling, hormone therapy and surgery related to gender reassignment.
While students are automatically assessed the student health insurance fee, they can opt out if they show evidence of other insurance coverage — through a parent or job, for example. About 28,000 of the campus’ 44,500 students are participating in the health insurance plan this year.
Other universities have added gender reassignment surgery to health plans in recent years, including Northwestern University.
“We believe it’s UIUC’s turn,” Stephanie Skora, president of a campus transgender group, told the board. “People who need this surgery … show great commitment to the fact that they need their body to be changed in order to live a happy, successful and fulfilling life. When this is denied to a person, the results are catastrophic.”
Trustee Koritz, an anesthesiologist, said he could not support a surgery that results in irreversible sterility for an 18-year-old, and he was concerned that students and families paying for the insurance would not support it.
“One of our major charges is to be advocates for students and their families. My gut feeling is that a majority of them would probably prefer not to pay this fee. I do not feel it is proper for the board to decide to make them do that,” Koritz said.
Cunningham said he voted against it because he did not have enough time to consider the plan.
Trustees Pamela Strobel and Patrick Fitzgerald said they did not believe it was their job to decide which medical procedures should be covered. “I do not feel it is appropriate in our role as trustees to exert our moral judgment on what things should be provided,” Strobel said.
U. of I.’s campus in Chicago added the surgery to the student health plan last year. It is not included for the university’s smaller campus in Springfield. The university’s three campuses have varying student fees and make health insurance decisions separately, though all require approval by the trustees.
The U. of I. board Thursday also took the first step toward hiring its next president by approving the creation of a 19-member committee that will lead the search. Trustees hope to choose the next president by January. President Robert Easter is expected to retire on June 30, 2015.