San Francisco is planning to become the first US city to offer its uninsured transgender residents free sex change surgery.
CBS News reports that the city's Health Commission voted on Tuesday to create a comprehensive program for uninsured transgender residents who are suffering mental distress over the incongruity between their physical bodies and their gender self-identification.
The city already provides transgender residents with free hormones, counseling and basic health services.
The San Jose Mercury Newsreports that the idea for going beyond basic services came from conversations between city health officials and transgender rights advocates who wanted surgeries such as genital reconstruction and mastectomies that are recommended for some trans people under Healthy San Francisco, the city's ambitious universal health care program.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the Transgender Law Center successfully urged the Health Commission to remove sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) from the list of procedures explicitly excluded from the Healthy San Francisco program.
"The community felt the exclusion... was discriminatory and we wanted to change that," Public Health Director Barbara Garcia told the Mercury News.
Rather than expand Healthy SF, the Commission decided to create an entirely new program dedicated to transgender health. Garcia says she hopes it will be up and running by late 2013. She says it should not strain the city's budget too much. Before the program is implemented, the Commission must study how many patients it would serve, how much it would cost and who would perform the surgeries.
Counting transgender populations is notoriously difficult, but there are thousands of them living in San Francisco. In 2001, the city became the first in the nation to provide free sex change surgeries to government employees. Other countries, notably Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand and some European nations, also provide free sexual reassignment surgery for their transgender citizens.