Transgender Surgery Making Inroads in Culture, with Insurers

By Brunk, Doug | Clinical Psychiatry News, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Transgender Surgery Making Inroads in Culture, with Insurers


Brunk, Doug, Clinical Psychiatry News


The way Dr. Marci L. Bowers sees it, societal acceptance of transgender persons has come a long way, and the future of transgender surgery is bright.

"Who thought that we'd have our decathlon winner Bruce Jenner become Caitlyn?" Dr. Bowers said at the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons in Indian Wells, Calif. "Who thought that the brothers who created "The Matrix" movies [Larry and Andy Wachowski] would become sisters? All in this past year?"

As the first transgender surgeon to perform transgender surgery in North America, Dr. Bowers knows of what she speaks. In fact, she recently joined the faculty at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York to help launch what she said would be the first U.S.-based surgical training program for transgender medicine in nearly 40 years.

"An academic institution doing these procedures is really revolutionary," she said. "I think it's going to really help how things are taught and described to practitioners."

She said she also hopes the effort helps stem the "high percentage" of transgender teenagers who attempt or commit suicide. According to 7,261 transgender students in grades 6-12 who responded to the 2009 National School Climate Survey, 61% reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 40% because of how they expressed their gender; 19% said they have been punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon on at least one occasion within the last year because of their sexual orientation and 13% because of their gender expression; and 53% reported cyberbullying because of their gender identity.

"We need to stop losing these people," she said. "My kids are now in their early 20s. This generation is asking for honesty in the areas of sexuality and gender identity."

Dr. Bowers, who graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1986 and did her ob.gyn. residency at the University of Washington, Seattle, characterized the notion of being "misgendered" as a biologic process. "If you look around nature, there is no single measure anywhere in biology that offers only two choices, besides gender," said Dr. Bowers, who underwent male to female reassignment surgery at age 39. "So when you think about it, the world is represented by a spectrum; it's represented by diversity. That's what transgender is, the inner concept of maleness and femaleness. It can't be just two choices. This is what's coming to the surface as this movement takes hold."

After practicing ob.gyn. in Seattle for 13 years, Dr. Bowers relocated to Trinidad, Colo., where she learned and began to practice transgender surgery under the tutelage of the late Dr. Stanley Biber, who performed more than 4,000 sex reassignment surgeries. After working there for 8 years, Dr. Bowers moved her practice to Burlingame, Calif., where she currently performs about 140 male to female operations each year and has a 3-year waiting list.

During each 3-hour operation the testicles are removed, the glans penis becomes the clitoris, the scrotum becomes the labia majora, the urethra becomes the labia minora mucosa, the scrotum/penile skin becomes the vagina, and the Cowper's glands and prostate are retained. Results are "rather convincing," she said.

Most patients require a hospital stay of up to 3 days, and the most common complication is wound separation/ dehiscence, which occurs in 3%-9% of cases. Out-of-pocket costs average about $25,000 per case, but a growing number of insurers now pay for the procedure.

"A dozen years ago, only one company in the Fortune 500 covered transgender surgery," she said. "Now in our practice, nearly 90% of insurers do, about 70% of the Fortune 500 companies do, and 12 states mandate coverage for all of their citizens to be covered for transgender surgery. It's really changed."

AMA backs coverage

In 2009 the American Medical Association passed a resolution supporting public and private insurance coverage for the treatment of gender identity disorder. …

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