The Collegian
Thursday, October 29, 2020

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Trans-inclusive employee healthcare coverage now included in university medical plan

<p>The human resources department is located in the first floor of Weinstein Hall.&nbsp;</p>

The human resources department is located in the first floor of Weinstein Hall. 

As of Jan. 1, University of Richmond began offering trans-inclusive healthcare coverage under the university’s medical plan, including gender-affirming surgery and related services. 

The healthcare coverage development was announced via SpiderBytes on Jan. 29, said Carl Sorensen, senior associate vice president of human resources. The news was also spread through an employee listserv, which generated conversation.

“There was quite a lot of buzz the first day,” Sorensen said. “Employees were commenting favorably about the change.”

Since President Ronald A. Crutcher arrived in 2015, he has worked to change the university's conservative roots through his strategic plan to diversify the community. 

For 169 years, the university had ties to the Virginia Baptists. This ended in 1999 when the university decided to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy governing student, faculty and staff recruitment and promotion. Some Virginia Baptists described it as “sinful and unacceptable to Christians,” according to the Baptist Press.

The current move to add trans-inclusive healthcare coverage to the university’s health plan is a continuation of these changes.

“I think this change in particular is one that’s been on our radar, and it aligns with our strategic goals to create a more inclusive and welcoming community,” Sorensen said.

Inclusivity and equity are listed as values of the strategic plan. 

According to the Strategic Plan website, “The University of Richmond values the dignity, worth, and contributions of all individuals … and an inclusive community in which all members can engage meaningfully in institutional life and contribute to a community where all thrive.”  

In order to gain perspective to create healthcare policy changes that incorporate these strategic goals, the human resources department reviews the benefits and policies set forth by the university every year, Director of Benefits and Compensation Laura Dietrick said.

There is also a benefits committee comprising faculty, staff and retirees from each school within the university that advises on policy, Dietrick said.

Although just recently announced, the idea for the policy change had been developing on campus for a while.

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“It’s been on our radar for a while as a possible piece to have,” Sorensen said. “It was probably initiated from people who might benefit from the change, but there’s a whole community of us who are supportive of policies that address the needs of different populations.”

Although unsure of where UR stood in relation to other colleges and universities concerning trans-inclusive healthcare policy, Dietrick said she thought a lot of institutions were looking into the possibility of adding a similar benefit.

There are a number of determining factors in adding this type of policy.

“It’s just really varies by employer and by all of the circumstances around the history of the school and where they’re located,” Sorensen said. “And the state legislation.”

Public universities, such as Virginia Commonwealth University, participate in the state employee health coverage program for Commonwealth of Virginia state government employees.

“The state employee program meets all provisions of the Affordable Care Act Section 1557 ‘Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities.’ So, medical, behavioral health, and prescription drug services for gender reassignment and sex transformation are covered,” Daniel Jason, manager of benefits at VCU, wrote in an email. “This coverage is not specific to VCU and covers all eligible employees at all participating state agencies of the Commonwealth.”

Conversation regarding the university’s healthcare policy is ongoing and is open to change based on the university’s needs. What may be seen as a big step for now could seem minuscule in the context of the work that still needs to be done.

“This thing on its own doesn’t make us a more inclusive community, but it’s these little acknowledgements of differences and addressing them that do,” Sorensen said. “It’s a puzzle piece in the whole thing.”

The coverage policy is available on the university’s benefits page. The medical coverage policy by Cigna outlines necessary treatments for people with gender dysphoria, including behavioral health services, hormonal therapy, gender reassignment surgery and others.

According to the human resources website, to enroll in the coverage, university employees must have completed a benefit enrollment/change form and submitted it to human resources by Feb.15.

This story was originally published on GayRVA.com. Contact managing editor Sydney Lake at sydney.lake@richmond.edu. 

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