Hawaii bans insurance discrimination against transgender patients

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HONOLULU (AP) — Insurance companies would not be allowed to discriminate against transgender patients under a bill passed by the Hawaii Legislature.

The bill passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives prohibits denying, canceling or limiting coverage based on a person’s gender identity.

“That’s something that’s really critical, especially now when you have states around the country moving the other direction, explicitly placing into law the ability to discriminate based on who people perceive themselves to be,” said Democratic Rep. Chris Lee, who introduced the bill. “Here in Hawaii where we treat everyone with respect and aloha. We think everyone is created equal and ought to be treated the same.”

The bill was already passed by the Senate, so it now goes to Gov. David Ige.

People in Hawaii have been denied coverage for essential medical checks like mammograms or screenings for prostate cancer because of the gender on their driver’s license, said Kaleo Ramos, a transgender teacher. Ramos hopes the bill will expand access to hormone treatments.

“We’re talking about people’s existence, their lives,” Ramos said. “This is necessary to their living, because we have so many trans deaths just because they cannot access hormones, or they can’t afford hormones.”

Republican state Rep. Bob McDermott, one of three representatives who opposed the bill, said he finds the social aspects troubling. McDermott said he is concerned that the bill would mandate insurance coverage of gender-reassignment surgeries, which he said would increase costs for everyone.

“This bill would be much more compassionate if we offered them free psychiatric care … instead of trying to address a psychological disorder with a physical solution,” McDermott said.

In response, Lee said the bill doesn’t mandate coverage of surgeries; it bans discrimination based on gender identity for services already offered by insurance plans. “A good portion of what he said was inaccurate, and more in line with what we’re hearing on the national level, targeting and perhaps even demonizing a group of citizens,” Lee said.

Mississippi recently passed a law allowing churches and some private businesses to refuse service to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Supporters said it’s about protecting religious freedom of those who, for example, don’t want to perform same-sex weddings.

The North Carolina law, which has drawn thousands to demonstrations for and against the law, prevents specific anti-discrimination rules for gay and transgender people using public restrooms. Religious leaders said the law protects women and children from men who use the law as a pretense to enter the wrong restroom.

Around the country, 10 jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C. have laws or policies banning discriminatory exclusions and denials of treatment based on gender identity, according to Equality Hawaii, a nonprofit organization.

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