Members of the Trans Resistance Action Committee (TRAC) gathered Saturday at the state Capitol to urge Dane County to terminate its insurance contract with a subsidiary of SSM Health after they stopped providing gender-affirming surgeries over the summer.
The Dean Health Plan by Medica has insured the county’s 3,000 employees for the past four years. While gender-affirming care is clearly stated in their contract with the county, SSM Health has ceased administering gender affirming surgeries at their Aesthetic Center in Middleton.
SSM Health is a Catholic, not-for-profit health system whose decision follows months of increased pressure from the Catholic Church to stop Catholic health care providers from administering gender-affirming care such as surgery, hormone therapy or puberty blockers.
In response to SSM Health’s decision, TRAC, a newly formed grassroots community organization that advocates for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people’s rights in the Madison area, took to the Capitol steps Saturday to call on the county to drop SSM Health as a provider.
“Obviously [SSM’s decision] is seen as a blatant attack on the lives of not only the trans county workers of Dane County, but also the trans community as a whole. So, we’re out here trying to raise awareness and urge Dane County to terminate their contract,” said TRAC member Cae Dallman.
Dallman also referenced the county’s recent decision to declare Dane County an official transgender sanctuary, urging them to support this resolution with real action.
“We’d really like them to put their money where their mouth is in that regard and show us that [it] wasn’t just words on paper,” Dallman said.
Logan Bitz, another TRAC member, said SSM’s decision reflects larger issues facing trans communities everywhere.
“I think it's just really indicative of the times right now that are extremely hostile towards trans people,” Bitz said. “And we know it's just about trans people because the same procedures are still offered to cisgender people at the Aesthetic Center. You can get a breast augmentation as a cis woman, you can get a vasectomy…it's just hypocritical.”
Kim Sveum, a spokesperson for SSM Health, told The Daily Cardinal in a statement that the health system “welcomes and respects all people who come to us for care, including our transgender patients,” though SSM did not say why they decided to stop offering gender-affirming surgeries.
“We remain committed to honoring the diverse individual needs of every person we work with and serve – and have a more than 150-year history of providing high-quality, compassionate care to all,” Sveum said.
Dane County searches for different providers
Despite SSM’s decision to stop providing gender-affirming surgeries, Dean Health spokesperson Scott Culver said the health plan will continue to support LGBTQ+ employees.
“Dean Health Plan remains committed to supporting the health care needs of the communities we serve, including our LGBTQ+ members,” Culver told The Daily Cardinal.
Although the county’s contract with Dean Health includes other providers that continue to offer gender-affirming services, SSM’s end to these procedures at the Aesthetic Center means that many patients won’t have access to the health care they need until the county finds a new provider, according to Bitz.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the county received no advanced notice of SSM’s decision.
“When we learned of their decision, we immediately contacted our insurer,” Parisi said. “DeanCare informed us that gender-affirming services would still be covered under our policies but that SSM would no longer be providing that service themselves.”
The county’s current contract expires next year, at which point the county will choose from a number of bids they are currently soliciting from new providers. Ensuring that providers offer gender-affirming care for county employees is a top priority, according to Parisi.
“As we did the last time we issued a request for bids, we will require any policy to include gender-affirming surgery and services,” he said. “Dane County is steadfastly in support of our LGBTQ+ employees and their families.”