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Starbucks' employee health insurance plan will now cover gender-changing surgeries and therapies

Starbucks announced this week that the company has expanded its health benefits to include what it has called "life-saving" procedures for its transgender employees,. (Image source: Starbucks website)

Starbucks has expanded its health care benefits to include what it has called "life-saving" procedures for its transgender employees, according to an announcement earlier this week.

The coffee giant said it would now offer health plans that cover the cost of reassignment procedures that had been considered cosmetic, and not covered by insurance, including breast augmentation or reduction, hair transplants, electrolysis, and facial feminization.

“The approach was driven not just by the company’s desire to provide truly inclusive coverage, and by powerful conversations with transgender partners about how those benefits would allow them to truly be who they are,” Ron Crawford, vice president of benefits at Starbucks, said in a news release Monday.

Starbucks health insurance plans have covered transgender reassignment surgery since 2012.

What prompted the change?

Crawford said the company decided it was the right thing to do for its transgender employees.

“I view this as a diagnosis with a treatment path,” he said. “You have to think of it from an equity perspective.”

How did it come up with its new coverage plan?

Last year, Crawford and Alyssa Brock, Starbucks' benefits director, contacted the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Jamison Green, WPATH's previous president, worked with Starbucks to help them create a benefits package that aligned with the recommended standards of care for transgender employees.

“Starbucks was not afraid to ask all the right questions and demand that people get the best possible care,” Green said in the release. “We produced a list of the most crucial benefits and those that are deemed problematic to insurance companies, such as facial feminization and electrolysis.”

Green, a transgender man who transitioned in 1988, said a procedure such as electrolysis "can be a life-saving procedure for transwomen."

How can cosmetic procedures be 'life-saving'?

Transgender adults have a higher percentage of suicide attempts than the general population, according to a 2014 report by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute.

According to the authors of the report, the increased risk for suicide attempts could be caused by "distress related to barriers to obtaining transition-related health care, such as a lack of insurance coverage, inability to afford those procedures or lack of access to providers."

The survey found that 41 percent of 6,500 transgender adults who responded to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey had attempted suicide at some point.

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