Increasingly, U.S. and Canadian plan sponsors are offering gender affirmation and gender reassignment benefits as a way to attract and retain top talent, improve mental health outcomes, and foster a diverse and inclusive workforce.
“Above all, [these benefits are] about removing barriers to health care and taking another step toward inclusive benefits coverage. That’s a win for plan members and plan sponsors alike,” said Michael Bradie, vice president of growth and client services for Green Shield Canada (GSC), in a Q&A that appears in the July/August issue of Plans & Trusts.
Validating and Valuing Transgender Employees
GSC recently introduced a gender affirmation offering as a standard benefit for all group plans that provide coverage for extended health services. This offering expands on components of traditional benefit plans and works in conjunction with provincial health programs to help deliver more inclusive benefits coverage for transgender plan members.
The financial services sector has been at the forefront of offering gender affirmation benefits to their employees, including Scotiabank and Manulife Financial Corporation in Canada. In addition, TD Bank Group, CIBC and the Bank of Montreal provide their Canadian employees with gender reassignment benefits as part of their general medical benefit plans. According to Business Insider, JPMorgan Chase expanded its fertility benefits to provide coverage to U.S. employees without a diagnosis of infertility. This can help transgender workers access valued benefits even when they can’t receive that type of diagnosis from a doctor.
“Gender affirmation offerings help transgender plan members feel validated and valued within the fabric of their work community and able to be their authentic selves,” Bradie said.
Making Use of Research and Collaboration
Bradie suggested that plan sponsors develop a robust, carefully researched offering in collaboration with a range of external stakeholders. GSC discovered that plan sponsors wanted to cover gender affirmation services without putting gender dysphoric plan members in a position where they had to “come out” to their employer prior to securing the applicable coverage.
GSC researched services that were covered through provincial or territorial plans and confirmed gaps for those transitioning. The company also reached out to transgender health associations, including the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH) and the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH).
“The biggest impact came from open and honest dialogue during several focus groups attended by LGBTQ2S+ plan members, parents of transgender youth and the diversity team of one of our largest plan sponsors,” Bradie said. “It was these conversations that informed the details of coverage and our decision to include gender affirmation as a standard offering for all group plans.”
Addressing Cost Concerns
Health care costs are always a concern when plan sponsors consider their benefit offerings, but Bradie said that gender affirmation benefits should be sustainable for many plans.
“We estimate that the impact will be less than 0.5% of total health costs across our entire book of group business,” Bradie said. “We believe that the offering strikes a balance between reducing the cost burden for those transitioning and, at the same time, maintaining plan sustainability.”
Enhancing DEI and Mental Health Efforts
Gender affirmation benefits also can be viewed through the larger lens of DEI and mental health efforts in the workplace.
Bradie noted that gender affirmation offerings by themselves can be a difference-maker for the mental health of transgender plan members. He also emphasized that research shows a concurrent need for mental health supports that exceed the care provided by health care systems—for both the transitioning plan member and their families.
In addition to creating better mental health outcomes, these benefit offerings can help employers demonstrate leadership in DEI—an important element for organizations looking to find and keep top employees.
“An inclusive benefits strategy recognizes the need for a comprehensive, 360-degree view of a plan member’s health, and we strongly believe that a robust gender affirmation offering represents a critical component of an organization’s DEI strategy,” Bradie said.
[Related Reading: With an Eye on the Future, Employers Shift Benefit Priorities]
To find more resources, visit the International Foundation resource for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Education.
Robbie Hartman, CEBS
Editor, Publications, for the International Foundation
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