In a major breakthrough for transgender employees, Starbucks now covers procedures once deemed ‘cosmetic.’
By Laura Newpoff
Starbucks Corp. has just unveiled what’s being called the most comprehensive transgender health policy in the world, and the new benefits package is expected to be nothing less than life-changing for workers who need surgeries often considered cosmetic by health insurers.
The coffee giant will cover all gender confirming procedures, including bottom surgery, breast reduction or augmentation, hair removal or transplants, and feminization surgery. The company also will work with employees to find the proper health care providers.
It’s a huge deal for people who need the expensive surgeries to complete their trans journey.
“The approach was driven not just by the company’s desire to provide truly inclusive coverage, and by powerful conversations with transgender partners about how those benefits would allow them to truly be who they are,” said Ron Crawford, vice president of benefits at Starbucks.
Tate Buhrmester, a transgender man who has been with Starbucks for 15 years and manages a store in Austin, Texas, said the new benefits make “trans people feel like they are people, like they matter and their health matters,” according to a story on the company’s website.
Starbucks has been a leader in offering benefits to the trans community and has covered gender reassignment surgery since 2012. It worked with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) to translate their recommended standards of care into a medical benefits policy.
Jamison Green, the immediate past president of WPATH, who worked with the company on the benefits package, said Starbucks was the first company in the world to ask it to help translate their recommended standards of care into a medical benefits policy.
“Starbucks was not afraid to ask all the right questions and demand that people get the best possible care,” Green said. “We produced a list of the most crucial benefits and those that are deemed problematic to insurance companies, such as facial feminization and electrolysis.”
Many procedures considered cosmetic aren’t optional for trans people, Green said in the story published by Starbucks. But they are essential in a person’s quest to be who they are. Something like electrolysis can be “a life-saving procedure for trans women,” he said.
A 2014 report from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute found that 41 percent of the 6,500 transgender adults who responded to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey had attempted suicide at some point, compared to the 4.6 percent of the overall population.
One reason for the high percentage of suicide attempts may be “due to distress related to barriers to obtaining transition-related health care, such as a lack of insurance coverage, inability to afford those procedures, or lack of access to providers,” the report authors wrote.
Green relayed a story to Starbucks about his transition in 1988. He worked for a company that provided health insurance that came with a huge exclusion. “It was Item 17. No services will be provided that have anything to do with transsexual services or sex change,” he said. “I said, ‘Oh my God, how am I ever going to get anything done?’ When they take away your health care, they take away your humanity.”
Starbucks is a top LGBTQ-friendly employer. It received a perfect store on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index this year. The Seattle company also has been a vocal supporter of marriage equality over the years.