Rights advocates are welcoming news a surgical penis-construction procedure for transgender men will be paid for by public medical insurance in B.C.
Phalloplasty will be covered under the Medical Services Plan (MSP) for up to five people each year, the provincial Ministry of Health has confirmed.
After previously rejecting calls to provide such coverage, the ministry decided to make the change following a review this year of recent medical literature on the procedure.
Marie Little, chair of the Vancouver-based Trans Alliance Society, described the decision to cover the procedure as “a hopeful sign”.
“Part of gender identity and the whole reason why it’s sometimes called a disorder, or at the very least dysphoria, is because your body doesn’t match your internal identity,” Little told the Straight by phone today (October 5).
“If you’re female-to-male and can’t get the final stage of the medical intervention, your body is never going to match the way you feel it should,” Little said.
“Not everybody who has a gender identity issue feels the need to modify their body completely, but for those who do, it’s important.”
However, Little said transgender men may still face challenges because of the restriction on how many people per year can receive coverage.
“I’m pretty sure at five per year it’s going to be quite a few years before you get to anybody new. It’ll be people who have been waiting impatiently for several years who actually get to go,” Little said.
A health ministry spokesperson said the province has a record of 24 people who have requested the procedure, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“As this procedure is a new benefit of MSP, we are limiting the number we are funding,” ministry spokesperson Stephen May said in an emailed statement to the Straight today.
“As we get more information about the success and complications from this procedure, we will be reviewing how many procedures we will fund annually.”
Vancouver MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, a vocal transgender-rights advocate, said he has been pressing the B.C. Liberal government for years to cover the procedure.
“The response has always been, ‘Well, it’s experimental. Who knows if it works?’” the Opposition New Democrat MLA told the Straight by phone today.
“When I point out that other jurisdictions have been doing it for years, I would never get a good response as to why what they do doesn’t count in B.C.”
However, he welcomed the decision to cover the procedure under MSP.
“It’s not a massive number of people this is going to impact but for those that it does it’s very important,” Chandra Herbert said.
“I think this illustrates that we’re slowly getting educated as a society around trans health issues and just around trans equality.”