A growing number of employers, both public and private, are providing coverage in employee health benefits plans for transition-related health care to treat gender dysphoria. In order to inform employer-based decisions and current policy debates regarding the provision of this coverage, this study describes the experiences of 34 employers who provide transition-related coverage in their health benefits plans. Overall, we find that transition-related health care benefits have zero or very low costs, have low utilization by employees, and yet can provide benefits for employers and employees alike.
Employers report very low costs, if any, from adding transition-related coverage to their health benefits plans or from actual utilization of the benefit after it has been added – with many employers reporting no costs at all.
Based on data collected in this study, the costs of providing transition-related health care coverage are very low, including for employers that cover a wider range of medical treatments or surgical procedures for transition.
Twenty-six of the 34 employers in this study provided information about the cost of adding transition-related coverage to existing health care plans.
- Eighty-five percent (85%) of these 26 employers reported no costs associated with adding the coverage, such as increases in premiums in the first year.
- Four employers (15%) reported costs due to adding the coverage. Three employers provided information about the costs they incurred from adding the coverage based on projections of utilization. These costs based on projections seem high in light of the findings from prior research and this study regarding actual costs and utilization rates. These projections may reflect actuarial overestimates of the utilization of these benefits and subsequent cost of claims. For instance, two employers reported a 1 percent increase in total cost to their transition-inclusive plans, based on projected benefit utilization, whereas two similarly-sized employers reported lower costs due to actual benefit utilization.
Twenty-one of the 34 employers in the study provided information about the actual costs from employees utilizing transition-related health care coverage.
- Two-thirds (14 employers) reported no actual costs resulting from employees utilizing the coverage.
- One-third (7 employers) reported some actual costs related to utilization by employees.
- However, only three of the seven employers reported the actual costs with any degree of specificity. All three of these employers reported that their actual costs from utilization are very low:
- In one case, actual cost over two years was only $5,500, which comprised only 0.004 percent of total health care expenditures. The other two employers characterized the costs as “negligible” and “minimal” at less than 1 percent of total costs or total claims paid.
Few people will utilize transition-related health care benefits when they are provided.
When an employee utilizes transition-related health care benefits, their claims may result in costs to their employer. The type, number, and cost of services accessed by individuals will vary, yet as described above, the costs of these benefits, if any, are very low, as is the utilization of the benefit. While utilization rates depend on the size of the employer, estimates based on the best data gathered in the survey result in annual utilization rates of approximately:
- 1 out of 10,000 employees for employers with 1,000 to 10,000 employees, and
- 1 out of 20,000 employees for employers with 10,000 to 50,000 employees.
- Two employers with less than 1,000 employees reported zero transition-related claims over a combined six years of providing this type of coverage in their health benefits plans.
- For employers with 1,000 to 9,999 employees, average annualized utilization was 0.107, with a lower bound of 0.027 and an upper bound of 0.214 claimants per 1,000 employees.
- For employers with 10,000 to 49,999 employees, average annualized utilization was 0.044, with an upper bound of 0.054 claimants per thousand employees.
Employers reported that providing transition-related health care coverage benefits them in a variety of ways. Employers reported that they provide the coverage in order to:
- Make them competitive as an employer within their industries and help them with recruitment and retention of employees (60%);
- Reflect their corporate values, including equality and fairness (60%);
- Provide for the health care needs of their employees and improve employee satisfaction and morale (48%); and
- Demonstrate their commitments to inclusion and diversity (44%).
Not surprisingly, then, a majority of employers also reported that they would encourage other employers to add the coverage, and none would advise against adding the coverage.
With regard to the scope of transition-related health care coverage that employers are providing, while many transition-related claims would be covered under these employers’ plans, some do not provide coverage for many medical treatments or surgical procedures that the WPATH Standards of Care describe as medically necessary when clinically indicated for an individual.
- Employers provide coverage in their health benefits plans that cover many medical treatments and surgeries that an individual may need for treatment of gender dysphoria. For most of the hormone therapies and genital surgeries asked about in the survey, 100 percent of transition-related benefits plans provide coverage.
- Plans are less likely to cover certain reconstructive procedures such as breast/chest surgeries, electrolysis, facial surgeries and related procedures, and voice-related care.
- Only 59 percent of employers cover breast or chest reconstruction, with only a quarter covering electrolysis, certain facial procedures, and voice-related procedures.
- Plans also have other specified limitations in coverage:
- Forty-eight percent (48%) of transition-inclusive plans have some type of restriction on access to transition-related healthcare provided out-of-network, including restrictions of services provided outside of the United States. These restrictions may limit access to transition-related care since providers in the United States may not participate in certain health benefits plans. In this case, employees may seek services outside of their plan, elsewhere in the U.S., or in another country.
- However, twenty-five employers (74%) offer transition-related benefits with no dollar limit. Almost all employers with a limit reported a$75,000 lifetime limit or higher (21%).
- In this sample, there was no relationship between the scope of the coverage provided and reported costs of adding the coverage, meaning providing broader coverage did not result in higher costs for surveyed employers.
Of the 33 employers responding to questions about the process of adding transition-related health care benefits, 94 percent (31 employers) reported that there were no significant barriers to adding the coverage. Employers also provided practical guidance to other employers to aid them in adding coverage for their employees. Employers recommended that other employers:
- Work with their insurers and Third Party Administrators to discuss the coverage they can offer and address any shortcomings in their medical guidelines.
- Conduct research and consult with other employers that provide the coverage to better understand costs they may incur and to be better informed to negotiate with their insurers.
- Work with benefits administrators to make sure they are providing competent customer service to employees who inquire about transition-related health care benefits.
Overall, we find that transition-related health care benefits have very low costs, have low utilization rates by employees, and yet can provide benefits for employers and employees alike. Future research regarding transition-related health care coverage should consider the negative impact on employees, and therefore on employers, of not providing medically necessary care for treatment of gender dysphoria. Future research should also consider the cost savings to employers over time that result from providing the health care that their employees need.
Download the full report