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Transmissions - AMA Takes Step in Struggle for Transgender Health Care
July 30, 2007
by Jamie Tyroler

Recently, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to amend its nondiscrimination policies to include transgender people. These new policies address a wide range of issues, including discrimination against patients, medical students and physicians, as well as insurance policies. According to the National Transgender Center for Equality, ?the AMA policies call for an end to the discriminatory insurance policies that trans people often face -- policies that disallow coverage for transition-related care, sex-specific care and even exclude all care for some trans people.?

Mara Keisling, executive director of the NCTE, called the new AMA policies ?a great step in moving the American health-care system in a direction of more fairness for transgender
people.?

Health care has been an important topic for most Americans and has been given more news media attention since Michael Moore?s new documentary Sicko was released. It?s even a larger issue when some doctors refuse to treat someone because they are ?different.? Sometimes the medical treatment is refused because the doctors state that they have no experience in treating transgender patients. Although there are some issues that are unique to transgender patients, especially those who are taking hormones, we are not that different from other human beings.

Several years ago, there was a brief article in the Kansas City Star about a transgender woman in Washington, D.C., who was in an automobile accident and died because the paramedics stopped treatment when they discovered that this person, Tyra Hunter, had male genitalia. This news item scared me because I did not want something similar to happen to me.

A few years ago, a transgender friend of mine tried committing suicide by swallowing a large amount of over-the-counter medication. She walked to a local emergency room where the doctor on duty ordered her to leave and not to return. The doctor told her that this hospital would never treat someone like her. Fortunately, she survived her suicide attempt. Unfortunately though, walking home in a very fragile state, she was raped.

At another area hospital, another transgender friend was in the intensive care unit and was pretty much ignored for most of his stay. He was lucky that he had someone who stayed with him and made sure he was fed and received some treatment. His friend even did routine things like sponge baths and helping him to the bathroom because the nursing staff wouldn?t
help him.

Not everything has been so bleak for local transgender people. Another transgender man was treated very well at another local hospital after complications after having a large growth removed from his uterus. It probably helped that one of the nurses had a transgender sibling. It also helped that there were people checking on him frequently. This nurse, by spending the time and effort in treating this man, learned a lot about her sibling, and possibly learned a lot about the diversity
of people.

I have had a lot of medical issues for the last few years. I?m taking more than 10 different medications for chronic pain and other related issues. My primary physician is one of the few in the Kansas City area who is open to the treatment of transgender patients. When people ask me to recommend a doctor in the Kansas City area, I know of only two. It?s very unfortunate.

It?s unfortunate for several reasons. One reason is that many of us feel that if we aren?t satisfied with either of these doctors, we have to just take the unsatisfactory treatment or not seek medical attention until it?s absolutely necessary. I have seen other doctors who have made the assumption that because I am transgender, I am probably HIV-positive.

It is also unfortunate because when one does not have much choice in physicians, one often settles for substandard health care. Or one forgoes seeing a doctor for many health issues, except for emergencies or when a medical issue seems to get worse. Another transgender friend was suffering from fatigue and was often sleeping 12 to 16 hours a day. After several weeks of this, she finally went to see a doctor and learned that she might have an issue with her thyroid.

Even with all the problems of the American health-care system (and there are many), most of us feel that we can see a physician when we need to, especially if we have insurance. Many Americans get their insurance through their employers. Unfortunately, many transgender people have difficulty in finding adequate employment. Many transgender people with health insurance still have some difficulty in finding adequate health care, because some of the medical expenses are not covered. Most health insurance, for example, does not cover genital surgery. Some policies won?t cover the cost of hormones.

Hopefully, sometime soon, the United States will provide universal health care. We should be ashamed of how we provide (or don?t provide) medical care. We should consider it a basic human right that should not be denied to anyone because of income, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other reason. We are the only Western nation that does not provide universal health care. According to Michael Moore?s Sicko, the United States ranks in the mid-30s for health care, between Costa Rica and Slovenia. We must do better at providing health care for everyone. We cannot refuse care for people because they are somehow ?different.?
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