Companies constantly seek avenues to deliver on their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) objectives. There are numerous strategies, but one concrete way is to infuse DE&I into employee benefits by offering gender affirmation coverage.
Gender affirmation procedures change a person’s sex characteristics to correspond to their gender identity. These include genital reconstruction surgery, chest or “top” surgery, facial feminization, and hormone therapy.
This year, DuPont Canada, CIBC and Molson Coors are among the Canadian companies that have rolled out gender affirmation benefits for their staff. For Pride Month in June, Canadian insurer Beneva expanded its group insurance to offer coverage for gender-affirming surgery.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion have become a significant consideration for many employers, including when building and enhancing benefit plans,” Jennifer Taylor, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Medavie Blue Cross told Insurance Business.
Medavie Blue Cross launched its gender affirmation benefit last year to enhance its insurance offerings as part of efforts to support a diverse Canadian workforce. Qualifying members of groups that offer the benefit have access to coverage of a wide range of procedures, including facial feminization, laser hair removal, and pectoral implants. The benefit is supplemental to government-funded programs.
Additionally, the company offers hormone replacement therapy through its drug plans and does not differentiate coverage based on gender. Individuals can access the treatment in the early phases of their transition process.
“When it comes to the future of work, employees are looking for greater choice, a better work-life balance, and to work for an organization that has values that align with their own. Organizations that evolve to support these social changes and expectations will set themselves up for continued success,” Taylor added.
A competitive talent market is also piling pressure on employers to distinguish themselves among prospective workers. Millennials and Gen Z workers have made inclusive workplaces a top priority in their job search. A survey by InsideOut Development showed that more than a third (36%) of Gen Z workers viewed weak DE&I practices as a “dealbreaker.”
“Employees want to work for companies who align with their values. Employers that invest in DE&I aligned benefits, such as gender affirmation, are showing employees that they are evolving to offer their employees benefit plans that reflect their workforce,” said Taylor.
Gender affirmation benefits could also help improve employee well-being. A 2022 study on mental health outcomes in young people receiving gender-affirming care showed vastly lower odds of severe depression (60%) and suicidality (73%). More than 100,000 Canadians identify as transgender, according to 2021 census data.
“Benefit plans that include offerings like a gender affirmation benefit help to reflect today’s workforce and workplace realities. They also provide a great way to support employees’ unique needs while creating differentiators when vying for new skilled talent,” Taylor commented.
For trans people, getting enough coverage is only one step towards obtaining the healthcare services they need. Red tape and absurdly long wait times also add to the burden of trans individuals seeking treatment.
But barriers are slowly coming down in Canada. In late July, Nova Scotia announced it was streamlining the application process and cutting wait times for residents seeking gender-affirming surgery. Until July 20, it was mandatory to include a letter of support from a Nova Scotia specialist and a letter confirming post-operative care if the surgery occurred in the province. Waiting times to see a specialist are between six and 18 months.
Companies can help ease the often-prohibitive financial burden of gender-affirming surgery by adding employee benefits, all while building a business-positive inclusive workplace.
“Social change is driving meaningful conversations around equity and inclusion, and spurring employers to take real action to advance diversity in the workplace. The gender affirmation benefit is one of many steps employers can take to create a more inclusive workplace,” said Taylor.
“At Medavie Blue Cross, we are working towards embedding DEI into everything we do: whether that’s offering inclusive benefit options to plan sponsors and plan members, investing in community-based initiatives that improve wellbeing, or treating all employees fairly and with respect.”