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Healthcare for Transgender Individuals: What We Need to Know

Kaitlyn Luckow

The barriers that transgender individuals face when it comes to healthcare can be devastating. However, with the change of practices and with dismantling stigmas and misunderstandings, thousands of individuals’ lives can be saved.

I wanted to take a look at the disparities for healthcare access and treatment of transgender individuals in regards to healthcare, what we can change, and the rights that transgender people have in order to ensure that they receive the care that they deserve. 

One of the large misunderstandings in regards to healthcare is menstruation. According to a 2020 study, these misunderstandings in regards to menstruation can appear in “menstruation management discourse, bathroom spaces, and healthcare consultations.”

Historically, menstruation has been known as something that is associated with femininity. According to multiple studies, gender is more complex than binary. There are women who don’t menstruate and not everyone who menstruates is a woman. 

Due to this massive misunderstanding in today’s society, menstruation can cause transgender or non-binary individuals to experience dysphoria and discomfort. This dysphoria and discomfort is only increased with binary bathrooms and a healthcare system that doesn’t always acknowledge the fact that menstruation isn’t feminine.

Menstruation is just one barrier that many transgender individuals have to face when needing healthcare and that can turn deadly due to the lack of access to care as well as prove detrimental to mental health.

According to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, 44.1% of transgender individuals have clinical depression and 33.2% have anxiety. On top of this, 54% of transgender youth have attempted suicide and 21% have self-mutilated.

Other barriers that transgender individuals face in the healthcare system are financial (19% are uninsured), misunderstandings in the medical community, socio-economic barriers, and discrimination during care  (33% of trans individuals reported that they didn’t seek medical care due to discrimination from healthcare providers).

Transgender individuals face almost insurmountable barriers in order to receive proper healthcare and that needs to change.

 

How Healthcare Needs to Change

The good news is that it is within our power as a society to change this. Here are some changes that need to occur within the healthcare industry.

Although there are large issues to address (insurance access), small changes can make the largest differences and save lives in healthcare. Here are steps that the healthcare industry can take:

  • Combat the lack of knowledge and misinformation. We need to address the knowledge gap.
  • It needs to be understood in the healthcare industry that just because an individual menstruates, it does not mean that they are female. This topic needs to be handled with care as menstruation can be a source of great dysphoria and discomfort.
  • Gynecologists should be prepared to provide preventative services such as STI testing and cancer screenings for transgender individuals.
  • Healthcare centers should be a welcoming environment for all individuals that they care for. Some ways to do this include:
    • Having single-occupancy and/or gender-neutral bathrooms
    • Display diversity in signage, brochures, and other resources.
  • Change medical intake forms. Add a transgender option to checkboxes. This allows healthcare workers to capture more accurate information as well as helps transgender individuals feel seen and heard. Other things that should be included in intake forms are:
  • Use preferred pronouns. This question can also be asked on patient intake forms and healthcare providers should use these preferred pronouns in all interactions with that patient.

Resources for Transgender Individuals

If you are a transgender individual, it’s important for you to know that you have inherent rights and laws to support you in order to receive the healthcare that you need.

The good news is, it is illegal, under both federal and state law, for health insurance plans to refuse to cover medical expenses because you are transgender. This includes any necessary transition-related care.  Insurances also aren’t allowed to charge you a higher rate due to your transgender status. It is illegal for them to treat you any differently.

If you face any kind of discrimination in regards to your insurance or while receiving healthcare, you can file a complaint to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  

If you’re struggling to find a safe space, there is also a community-created list of trans-affirming healthcare providers that can be found here.

And finally, mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated in the same way. If you are feeling suicidal or need support please reach out to the TransLifeLine (a national suicide prevention hotline) at 877-565-8860.

 

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