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Penn OKs coverage for sex-change surgeries for students in health plan

The University of Pennsylvania has approved health-insurance coverage for students who want sex-change surgeries and related treatments, officials said Wednesday.

The University of Pennsylvania has approved health-insurance coverage for students who want sex-change surgeries and related treatments, officials said Wednesday.

Penn president Amy Gutmann recently approved the coverage, which the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee had recommended, university spokesman Ron Ozio said.

The benefit applies to students who participate in the Penn Student Insurance Plan, which is available to students who do not have health coverage through their families or other means.

All Penn students must have some form of health insurance. About 8,000 to 9,000 of Penn's more than 20,000 students annually buy the school insurance, Ozio said.

The transgender coverage will be available this fall.

The coverage for surgery is capped at $50,000, Ozio said. The benefit also would pay for psychotherapy and hormonal treatments that go with the surgery.

Ozio said the premium increase for students would be small because very few - if any - students would likely take advantage of the coverage.

"It's going to end up being a few cents [more] per student," said Dennie Zastrow, 22, a senior and former board chairman of Lambda Alliance, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students at Penn.

Zastrow said students who had the school insurance - largely graduate students - paid about $2,000 a year for coverage.

He said he had pushed for the insurance benefit to bring more attention to the needs of the transgender community. He added that the coverage would bring the health benefits in line with the university's nondiscrimination policy.

The university's policy is to not discriminate based on "gender identity," Ozio said.

Bob Schoenberg, director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center at Penn, said employees at the university should also have the coverage.

"Frankly, I think it's only a matter of time," said Schoenberg, a Penn employee. "It's a little bit inequitable to have coverage for students but not for staff."