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Medicaid programs will now cover transgender healthcare following SRLP’s twelve-year campaign

Elana Redfield

Elana Redfield

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health announced that our Medicaid programs will now cover transgender healthcare. This is a momentous victory for SRLP community members and all transgender New Yorkers.

The proposed regulation will allow transgender people to access hormones and surgeries under Medicaid. Introduced on December 17th, the regulation is open for 45 days of public comment. The announcement comes in response to Cruz v. Zucker – a lawsuit the Sylvia Rivera Law Project brought in partnership with the Legal Aid Society and the law firm Willkie, Farr and Gallagher – and to the incredible persistence of our communities in demanding this care.

It may be useful to share a little history of this regulation. Passed in 1998, the regulation banned access to hormones and all surgeries commonly sought by transgender people. The impact was quick and deep, as thousands of low income transgender people and transgender people of color were cut off from life-saving care and denied much-needed treatments.

Since SRLP opened our doors in 2002, one of our primary goals has been to bring down this discriminatory ban. Here is a brief history of this incredible campaign:

  • In collaboration with other transgender and queer groups, such as Queers for Economic Justice, Audre Lorde Project and the Gender Identity Project of the NY LGBT Center, we began organizing and strategizing to take down the regulation.
  • Working with the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, we filed the first lawsuit to challenge the ban, Casillas v. Daines.
  • When the court was unwilling to overturn the regulation, we partnered with the Legal Aid Society to bring a challenge to Governor Patterson.
  • We held health care focus groups for trans people of color and developed a Cost-Benefit Memo gathering all available data on transgender health care
  • When Governor Patterson was unwilling to overturn the regulation, we partnered with Housing Works and the Empire State Pride Agenda to bring it to Governor Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team, with 500 signed petitions. Assembly Member Richard Gottfried and Senator Brad Hoylman declared their support.
  • When the Redesign Team refused to overturn the regulation, we started our healthcare media campaign with GLAAD and Callen Lorde this time with videos, infographics, and thousands of signed petitions.
  • Working with Make the Road NY, GLOBE, and the Audre Lorde Project, we then used direct action to keep transgender healthcare on the agenda for the Department of Health. We met with the Health Care for All New York Coalition (HCFANY) to join forces.
  • May 30, 2014 – U.S. Department of Health repealed transgender healthcare ban under federal Medicare program after Denee Mallon case and advocacy by organizations including GLAD, ACLU, and NCLR.
  • In June 2014 we filed Cruz v. Zucker – the same week TIME Magazine hailed “The Transgender Tipping Point.”
  • December 10, 2014 – As a result of our lawsuit and advocacy by HCFANY, Governor Cuomo released a bulletin clarifying that private insurance that covers mental health care must cover transgender health care
  • December 17, 2014 – New Medicaid Regulation introduced for 45 days of public comment.

We have been fortunate to partner with so many incredible organizations to bring about this change. In particular we want to thank the Legal Aid Society and Willkie, Farr and Gallagher for their incredible drive and legal expertise in guiding this case. We are grateful to the Health Care for All New York campaign for supporting us and lifting up our communities. And of course, we are grateful to the Cuomo administration for being willing to step up and address this long-standing injustice.

The regulation is not perfect – we would like to see care covered for young people under 18, and we would like to see all forms of gender-affirming care covered. But this is a great start. We invite all transgender people of color, low income people and allies to join us as we plot our next steps. Stay tuned for campaign updates and next steps in early 2015!

And the fight continues. As we have seen in Ferguson, Staten Island, and all over the country, the legal system is not designed to protect our communities. We must fight for the lives of our community members, fight to end racism and all forms of oppression or violence and poverty will persist.

Only hours after yesterday’s news was announced, we received devastating news that the appeals court in Massachusetts overturned the decision in Kosilek v. Spencer – a groundbreaking case where the court said that a transgender prisoner has the right to gender-affirming surgery. The decision to deny this right will be appealed to the higher courts, but we cannot rely solely on the legal system to fight for healthcare access and gender self-determination. Just as our community mobilized for this Medicaid win, we must continue to organize with our community members in prison. We believe that all people are entitled to gender-affirming care. We believe that all people deserve to be free. We believe that the fight for gender self-determination will not be over until all people are free to self-determine their gender – and until the prison system as we know it is abolished.

The work we are doing is the work of liberation. This week’s Medicaid announcement is a tremendous victory for all transgender people. It is also a testament to the power of movement building, to working together to bring about the world we believe in, and to the combined strength of legal work, community organizing, media, and government advocacy. We could not be more proud of our communities and our allies for the work we have done.

Please consider making a donation to celebrate this milestone and support our continued work.

“I’m not missing a minute of this! It’s the revolution!”
– Sylvia Rivera


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