Despite the medical necessity, legislative mandates, and economic benefits of gender-affirming surgery, access to treatment remains limited. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has proposed guidelines for transition-related surgery in conjunction with criteria to delineate medical necessity. The authors assessed insurance coverage of “top” gender-affirming surgery and evaluated the differences between insurance policy criteria and WPATH recommendations.
The authors conducted a cross-sectional analysis of insurance policies for coverage of top gender-affirming surgery. Insurance companies were selected based on their state enrollment data and market share. A Web-based search and individual telephone interviews were conducted to identify the policy. Medical necessity criteria were abstracted from publicly available policies.
Of the 57 insurers evaluated, bilateral mastectomy (transmasculine) was covered by significantly more insurers than breast augmentation (transfeminine) (96 percent versus 68 percent; p < 0.0001). Only 4 percent of companies used WPATH-consistent criteria. No criterion was universally required by insurers. Additional prerequisites for coverage that extended beyond WPATH guidelines for top surgery were continuous living in congruent gender role, two referring mental health professionals, and hormone therapy before surgery. Hormone therapy was required in a significantly higher proportion of transfeminine policies compared with transmasculine policies (90 percent versus 21 percent; p < 0.0001).
In addition to the marked intercompany variation in criteria for insurance coverage that often deviated from WPATH recommendations, there are health care insurers who categorically deny access to top gender-affirming surgery. A greater evidence base is needed to provide further support for the medical necessity criteria in current use.