Over the objections of religious groups, Virginia is poised to mandate nondiscriminatory care for transgender patients

Over the objections of religious groups, Virginia is poised to mandate nondiscriminatory care for transgender patients
Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In a year when the General Assembly passed sweeping LGBTQ-friendly legislation, it’s a relatively low-profile health bill that has opponents questioning whether the state is going too far in its protections for transgender Virginians.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted 12-2 on Monday to report a bill from Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, that would ban health insurance companies from denying or limiting coverage based on a patient’s gender identity or transgender status. The legislation, which passed the House 54-41, is expected to clear the Senate in a similarly party-line vote.

The bill codifies federal protections first established under the Affordable Care Act. In 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services issued final regulations clarifying that the law would extend nondiscrimination protections to patients on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. While the federal government has never clarified that “sex discrimination” includes disparate treatment based on sexual orientation or transgender status (the subject of an ongoing Supreme Court case), the regulations make it clear that the federal Office for Civil Rights would consider gender identity when evaluating discrimination complaints from patients.

Since then, health insurance carriers have covered treatment that’s consistent with a patient’s gender identity, said Doug Gray, executive director for the Virginia Association of Health Plans. That can include hormone therapy for a patient experiencing gender dysphoria — the diagnostic term for someone whose gender identity doesn’t align with their sex assigned at birth.

Patients dictate the extent of their treatment, but current medical standards include hormones or gender reassignment surgery. Numerous research papers, including a 2018 study on transgender veterans, have found that the treatments can significantly improve mental health outcomes and reduce the risk of suicide.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.