Wisconsin’s Group Insurance Board votes to remove transgender health coverage exclusion

by | Aug 22, 2018 | 0 comments

MADISON – In a narrow 5-4 vote today, the Group Insurance Board opted to remove the exclusion for transgender health care coverage for state employees.

The issue has proved to be a contentious one for the politically-appointed board. In July 2017, the GIB voted to add coverage for transition-related care after its attorneys advised that it was required under the Affordable Care Act. Obama Administration officials had issued a memo saying that transgender people and their care were covered by Title IX anti-sex discrimination rules.

After the election of Donald Trump and the reversal of that guidance, and as a ruling was pending (and ultimately given) by a federal judge in Texas to block implementation of transgender health coverage, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, at Gov. Scott Walker’s request, asked the board to reconsider. They argued that the board’s decision was based on “unlawful” rules that “improperly” interpreted Title IX.

The GIB met again in late January 2018, ultimately voting 7-2 to re-add an explicit exclusion for any transition-related care from coverage plans.

According to a state consultant with the Employee Trust Fund (ETF), a civil service body charged with researching many of the issues brought before the board, covering gender reassignment surgery and related benefits would have cost $100,000 to $250,000 a year in a $1.5 billion program that provides health benefits to about 250,000 state and local government workers and their dependents. The estimate also assumed just two to five people would have used the services per year.

The decision today comes in light of a recent ruling by a federal judge in Madison, who ordered the state to cover the surgeries of two transgender Medicaid recipients, as well as other developments in case law and medical research showing the overwhelmingly positive impact of gender dysphoria treatments.

“I’d like to note specifically the material we received showing a significant change in practices regarding this coverage, and the positive results of the care,” board member Chuck Grapentine stated before his vote to remove the exclusion. “I can in very good conscience approve this change…and I encourage my fellow board members to do the same.”

The ETF provided material laying out various options for the board to consider, from the status quo (keeping the exclusion) to removing it entirely. They could have punted the issue to a future meeting, too. Board member Herschel Day motioned to approve the first option outlined, which completely removes the exclusion and allows for care so long as it’s deemed “medically necessary.”

“This provides improved health and well being to members at no cost,” Day said. “I would like us to get out of the doctor-patient relationship and let those doctors and their patients determine what’s best.”

A packed room of guests applauded loudly, and again when the motion passed to remove the exclusion.

Domestic Partnership Benefits discussed

The board also took up a motion to instruct the ETF to do further research on ways the state might still provide some form of domestic partner benefits to state employees. The state’s Domestic Partner Registry was eliminated in the 2017-19 budget at the behest of Gov. Walker. He argued that the registry was no longer necessary given the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state in 2014 and nationally in 2015.

Board member and Walker Administration appointee Waylon Hurlburt argued that it would be a waste of ETF staff time to research something he said was against state law (Hurlbert is Walker’s former budget director and introduced the original motion to add the transgender insurance exclusion).

Bob Conlin, the ETF Secretary, clarified that the state had only removed the registry and coverage for those on it, but had not technically made DPBs illegal. Hurlburt pushed back, saying that there was no reason to address it at the ETF or GIB level. “If we want that to change, talk to the government,” he added.

Graventine suggested that DPBs were no longer necessary because the “population served” by them was “finally able to marry” like everyone else. His comment was met with some derisive laughter by several guests in the gallery.

Domestic partnerships are utilized by LGBTQ and heterosexual people alike, especially for those people on disability for whom marriage would eliminate coverage and care options. Many private and even state businesses find ways to offer some form of domestic partner benefits to employees in recognition of that continued need.

It was a letter from the UW Chancellors requesting the reinstatement of DPBs that prompted the discussion about research at the GIB meeting. They argued that the lack of such coverage seriously hurts efforts at recruiting and retaining important faculty and staff at the university. Several competing Big 10 colleges offer such coverage.

A motion to not advise the ETF to research the issue carried 7-3.

“I’m really excited that the trans exclusion has been removed so that people are going to be able to get access to necessary medical care,” said Jay Botsford, program director with the Wisconsin Transgender Health Coalition. However, Botsford relayed complicated feelings about the outcome of the meeting overall. “The fact that they are completely ignoring domestic partner benefits is an issue of both LGBT justice and disability justice, and they are fucking a lot of people over.”

Davey Shlasko, also a member of the WTHC, added, “The people on the board who spoke about DPBs appear to be unfamiliar with the laws related to it, and also unfamiliar with the purposes of providing benefets to domestic partners. That concerns me because some members of the LGBT community are also unfamiliar with the purposes of providing domestic partnership benefits even though marriage is possible now. I really think we need to learn how this is important for members of our community who have various disabilities and various family formations and other reasons that marriage is not a good option–and that they need domestic partnership benefits.”

Article Tags

Rutabaga - Summer
Out in the Park 2022


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rutabaga - Summer
Out in the Park 2022

Latest News

Chrysalis Hair & Body owner wins SBA award

Chrysalis Hair & Body owner wins SBA award

Julia McConahay of Chrysalis Hair and Body (soon to be known as Chrysalis Closet) on the northside of Madison received a special SBA Wisconsin District Director’s award, an award that is not given annually but at the discretion of the director in recognition for...

GOP governor candidate Michels opposes same-sex marriage

GOP governor candidate Michels opposes same-sex marriage

Tim Michels, a Trump-endorsed GOP candidate for governor, confirmed in an interview with the Associated Press on June 14 that he maintains his opposition to gay marriage, stating plainly that he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman only. While...

Madison to hold first-ever Pride Interfaith Service

Madison to hold first-ever Pride Interfaith Service

A diverse group of affirming religious communities spanning the faith spectrum are joining together for Madison’s first-ever Pride Interfaith Service this August. The planners of this event feel the need to speak queer affirmation loudly. Rabbi Bonnie Margulis,...

La Crosse Common Council Bans Conversion Therapy

La Crosse Common Council Bans Conversion Therapy

On Thursday, June 9, the La Crosse Common Council passed a conversion therapy ban ordinance in a vote of 6–4, making La Crosse the 14th city in Wisconsin to ban the outdated practice. This new ordinance bans any type of conversion therapy to be practiced on anyone...

The Dynamo

The Dynamo

Clyde Mayberry is the CEO & Founder of the first African American Performing Arts Center in Dane County.

The Educator

The Educator

Stacy Clark is a Community Health and Equity champion whose mission is to provide services and education to others that he may not have had as a young, black, gay male.

Latest News


Forward Fertility
Vivent Health - PrEP
2022 Magic Pride Festival
Atlas Counseling



Thu 18

Interfaith Pride Service

August 18 @ 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Thu 18

QT Social Nights

August 18 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Fri 19

Gay Madison Family Pride Show

August 19 @ 9:30 pm
Fri 19

LEO SZN at five nightclub

August 19 @ 10:00 pm





Popular Tags

Pin It on Pinterest