Washington is about to make it much easier for trans people to get health care

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The bill has advanced even as other states attack transgender people's access to gender-affirming health care.

Washington state is close to passing a bill that would make it easier for transgender people to access gender-affirming health care, such as transition-related treatments and surgery. The legislation is moving forward even as GOP lawmakers across the country push numerous bills attacking transgender people's health care.

Washington Senate Bill 5313, introduced by Democratic state Sens. Marko Liias and Emily Randall on Jan. 19, would improve access to transgender health care under state-regulated health plans.

The bill would stop insurance carriers from denying gender-affirming care to patients and makes it clear that is an unfair practice to deny necessary care for transgender people by calling this care "cosmetic," according to a health impact review of the bill from the Washington State Board of Health and the Governor's Interagency Council on Health Disparities.

The report said that this could possibly "decrease denial of care, delay of care, or forgoing care; improve health outcomes; and decrease health inequities for transgender and gender diverse individuals."

The bill has already passed the state Senate and House and is currently going through a concurrence process before it heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who lawmakers expect to sign it.

Andrew McVicar, a communications specialist for the Washington Senate Democrats, said the concurrence vote could happen between April 12 and April 25.

Inslee has a record of supporting LGBTQ rights. In April 2019, the governor signed into law the state's first LBGTQ commission. He also signed a bill declaring that homicide defendants can't use what is known as the gay and transgender "panic defense," a legal strategy that claims violence is a justifiable reaction to a person's sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim, in March of 2020.

And in April of last year, after the Trump administration moved to eliminate Obama-era nondiscrimination protections in health care for queer, trans and/or nonbinary people, Inslee tweeted, "Legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ patients is disgraceful and cruel."

NARAL Pro-Choice Washington called the bill a 2021 legislative priority. The organization says it supports the bill because it "would prevent insurance carriers from denying coverage for gender-affirming treatment. It would also ensure that if a carrier does not have an adequate network for gender-affirming treatment, it will help identify geographically accessible and timely care at an in-network rate."

Equal Rights Washington, the Washington State LGBTQ Commission, the Ingersoll Gender Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, among other organizations, support the bill.

Liz Lovelett, a Democratic Washington state senator who is one of the sponsors of the health care legislation, told the American Independent Foundation it's particularly important to improve protections for transgender people in health care as they face dozens of bills across the country that attack their rights:

As we continue to see discrimination and violence targeting the trans community — especially trans youth — it's so important to build upon the work we've done in years past to ensure all Washingtonians have their rights fully protected. I firmly believe that everyone deserves medical care, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That is why I view S.B. 5313 as a huge step to ensure trans folks can depend on comprehensive access to the full spectrum of medical services they need without risk of discrimination.

On Tuesday, Arkansas became the first state in the nation to enact a prohibition of gender-affirming health care, including hormone treatments and puberty blockers, for minors. After Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) vetoed the bill, which he called "too extreme," the Arkansas General Assembly voted to override his decision. Lawmakers have filed or introduced similar legislation in 18 other states. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.