The State Department, which has been on the leading edge of policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender federal employees, is eliminating the “transgender exclusion” from the agency’s largest health insurance program.
Insurance policies under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program generally exclude services “related to sex reassignment.”
In practice, this transgender exclusion “denies coverage to transgender people for the same treatments available to non-transgender policy holders, without regard to medical necessity,” the State Department said in a statement to the Federal Diary. “Insurance companies often view this exclusion in the broadest possible terms, excluding care that clearly has no relationship to gender status such as cancer treatment and routine preventive care.”
But starting in January, the exclusions will no longer be part of the department’s largest health insurance plan, the one provided by the American Foreign Service Protective Association (AFSPA).
This will make a big difference for the family of Kimi Kanda in Santa Clara, Calif.
“Because the exclusion in federal health-care coverage has been lifted, our daughter will have access to health care she needs like any other child of a federal employee,” Kanda said. “If the exclusion remained, we would pay out of pocket for her medical care even though we already pay for her to be included on my husband’s federal insurance.”
The State Department has about a dozen health insurance providers. All of them have been asked to lift the transgender exclusion, and AFSPA’s Foreign Service Benefit Plan is the first to comply. The State Department said the Foreign Service Benefit Plan covers more than 57,000 active and retired State Department and Defense Department employees and their families.
“It’s about fairness and respect for our employees, but it’s also about showing the world we mean what we say and say what we mean,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in a statement to The Washington Post. “It’s tough to tell other countries to provide equal opportunity if we’re not living that out ourselves. So this matters in many ways. I’ve met transgendered colleagues at the Department and in addition to being brave and strong, they’re just good officers. Why should they have it any different when it comes to health care?”
The AFSPA plan is the department’s largest, covering almost 31 percent of its employees, with Blue Cross Blue Shield a close second.
Paula S. Jakub, AFSPA’s chief executive, said the association has “been working tirelessly” with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and others “for the last two years to make this benefit a reality.”
But it is not a reality for other plans in the OPM-administered FEHB program. OPM said it “removed its requirement that carriers exclude ‘services, drugs, or supplies related to sex transformations’ ” beginning in 2015, but it did not order health insurance companies to do so.
Selim Ariturk, president of GLIFAA, which represents LGBT State Department employees, praised OPM and AFSPA “for doing the right thing, and ending this discrimination. All our colleagues deserve equal access to quality health care.” GLIFAA once stood for “Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies,” but it now uses just the initials because, Ariturk said, “we’re pushing for equality for all, not just the ‘G’s and L’s.’ ”
After an Army civilian police officer disclosed that other officers were receiving unearned pay, the whistleblowing cop got a big payback.
The Army tried to fire him.
But the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) came to the rescue of Kenneth Delano. It persuaded the Merit Systems Protection Board to stop his firing for 45 days. During that time, the OSC, which protects federal whistleblowers, will investigate allegations that the Army retaliated against Delano because of his disclosures.
“Based on the totality of facts, OSC concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that retaliation for whistleblowing at least contributed to the Army’s decision to propose Delano’s removal,” the OSC said.
In August 2013, Delano told the Defense Department’s inspector general that two other officers were getting about $25,000 each in inappropriate extra pay that had been approved by managers, according to OSC. The Army stopped that pay, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
In March, Delano’s patrol car developed steering problems after being damaged. Delano’s chief at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia assigned one of the officers whom Delano had blown the whistle on to conduct the investigation into Delano’s car, according to the OSC. Delano objected to what would seem an obvious conflict of interest and asked that another officer investigate. That request was rejected.
The investigating officer said Delano damaged the car and “concluded that Delano’s statements during the investigation lacked candor,” the OSC said. He was later charged with acting discourteously toward a colleague.
Last month, Army officials moved to fire Delano.
But now they can’t, at least not yet, because of the OSC’s action.
The agency would not release the names of the employees who allegedly retaliated against Delano. The Army did not respond to a request for comment.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.