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News Room

The Issues LGBT People Face When Dealing With Insurers

Megan Ellis
2017-04-26
As some insurers declare that they are LGBT-friendly, more companies are exploring whether specialist coverage is needed for the community.
With some insurers declaring that they are LGBT-friendly, more companies are exploring whether specialist coverage is needed for the community. Emerald Life, a UK insurer, has made headlines in recent months by advocating for specialist insurance for homosexual, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer members of society. But, what issues do people in the LGBT community face when applying for insurance?

Issues Around Diagnosis And Treatment For Transgender People

In a paper published in the South African Medical Journal in 2014, researchers noted the issues transgender individuals face while trying to access coverage for gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy. In order to be covered, individuals need to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which is listed as a mental illness. This carries additional stigma, however, and, sometimes, results in them being referred to psychiatrists instead of other doctors.
"There are concerns that the combined stigma of being transgender and having a mental disorder diagnosis creates a doubly burdensome situation for an already vulnerable population. This could, in turn, compromise their health and human rights," researchers said in the paper, titled Transgender issues in south Africa, with particular reference to the Groote Schuur Hospital Transgender Unit. "For example, transgender people may be more likely to be denied primary healthcare in general medical or community-based settings. This given the perception that they must be treated by psychiatric specialists."
Despite provisions in the law, which recognise transgender individuals and also give individuals the right to change their sex on their identity documents, there are still hurdles in getting coverage. The Groote Schuur Transgender Unit provides gender reassignment options. But, the unit has a 25-year waiting list, due to lack of resources. The unit only assigns four days of the year for gender reassignment surgeries, according to IOL.

Coverage For Gender Reassignment

When it comes to private healthcare, Bankmed has been cited as the only local insurer to have ever covered gender reassignment surgery. The rest of the insurers classify the surgery as cosmetic. Despite gender reassignment being considered an effective treatment for gender dysphoria. There are organisations and medical professionals who are pushing for the surgery to be classified as reconstructive, and not cosmetic, in order to secure coverage for transgender patients. In the meantime however, many continue to be denied coverage in this respect.

Outdated Notions Of Marriage

While many insurers don't aim to directly discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, outdated form requirements can end up in these couples being unable to buy coverage. For example, Emerald Life has cited a situation where a gay man couldn't get a family discount on his coverage because the consultant could not alter the computer system to accept a male as his spouse. His application could, therefore, not be processed. While the insurer didn't consciously exclude homosexual couples, outdated form requirements resulted in the inability to grant the client the requested coverage.

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Untrained Staff

Some of the hurdles that the LGBT community faces, in dealing with insurance, is the lack of training of staff and consultants. This results in customer service that is uncomfortable and daunting for some homosexual and transgender clients. Many customer service providers have not been trained to deal with these clients in an appropriate manner. Leading to intrusive, and sometimes ignorant, questions. Much of Emerald Life's marketing of their LGBT-friendly policies relates to the way customers are treated.
"We wanted to get it right. We wanted to make sure that all parts of the insurance process - website, policies, call-centre scripts - were redone. And, make sure that our customer service, our products, and our customer journey was exactly right for our community," co-founder Steve Wardlaw says on the company's site.

Gender Binaries For Forms And Honorifics

While transgender people, like Caitlin Jenner, have brought more attention to the community, fewer people are aware of non-binary individuals. Non-binary people are individuals who do not identify with either of the gender binaries (masculine or feminine) defined by society. So, while a transgender woman might choose the honorific 'Ms', 'Mrs', or 'Miss', non-binary people are often not comfortable with either masculine or feminine honorifics. While it seems like a small detail to some, it adds to the distress of genderqueer individuals. And, reinforces cultural stigma around non-conforming gender identities. Many companies still require their customers to be addressed by honorifics and cannot register them without either a 'Mr' or a 'Ms'. More insurers, however, are now introducing 'Mx' as a gender-neutral honorific. Conveying respect to an individual while not assigning a gender to them. Whatsapp 076 888 4931.

So, What's The Solution?

There are varied opinions over whether the LGBT community needs specialist coverage. While an LGBT-targeted insurer is sometimes criticised as isolating members as 'different', more general insurers often stumble when it comes to dealing with these clients. There is more consensus, however, on the need for insurers to become aware of the issues LGBT people face by changing their policies and training their staff to accommodate them. What do you think?
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