SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The government of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program will now cover transition-related health care.
The governor’s Advisory Council on LGBTT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender) Issues in a draft press release sent to the Los Angeles Blade earlier this week said Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program will specifically cover medications and hormones that transgender people use when they transition.
The press release notes the council has been working with the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration, which oversees the U.S. commonwealth’s Medicaid program, and medical experts for more than a year to develop the policy. Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, a member of Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party who lost her primary in August, also supports the new regulation.
The new policy took effect on July 1, which is the beginning of Puerto Rico’s fiscal year. The council did not publicly announce it until this week because it said Puerto Rico’s pharmacies needed time to update their systems to ensure compliance.
“The LGBTT Advisory Board identified, during these years of work, several important health needs for the LGBTIQ community,” said Johanne Velez, the council’s president, in the press release. “These high-profile needs included ensuring that the trans community, within their holistic transition management plan (social, psychological, spiritual and physical), had access to quality hormone treatment. After more than a year of continuous work, direct collaboration with the relevant agencies, and the strong support of the governor of Puerto Rico, Hon. Wanda Vázquez Garced, we achieved this approval for the next fiscal year.”
“We feel a great sense of satisfaction with this step that will result in better access and quality of health services for our trans community,” added Velez. “It is a historic day of advance for human rights on our island.”
Alberto Valentín, the council’s executive director, agreed.
“Today we move towards a Puerto Rico for todes (everyone), a Puerto Rico with greater access to health (care), a fairer, more inclusive and diverse Puerto Rico,” he said in the press release.
Trans Puerto Ricans remain vulnerable to violence, discrimination
The Movement Advancement Project notes 21 states and D.C. have Medicaid policies that “explicitly” cover “transition-related health care.” Uruguay is among the countries that include transition-related health care in their public health care systems.
Trans people in Puerto Rico since 2018 have been able to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. Advocates on the island with whom the Blade has previously spoken say a lack of access to health care, discrimination and violence are among the myriad issues that trans Puerto Ricans face.
Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, is among the activists who sharply criticized Vázquez in June when she signed a new Civil Code they say does not protect LGBTQ Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Rican government has also faced criticism over its response to the murders of Alexa Negrón Luciano, Serena Angelique Velázquez, Layla Pelaez and other trans people.
The body of Michelle “Michellyn” Ramos Vargas, a 33-year-old trans woman, was found along a highway in San Germán in southwest Puerto Rico on Sept. 30.
The Human Rights Campaign on Wednesday hosted a virtual roundtable that focused on these murders and the overall epidemic of violence against trans Puerto Ricans.
Alexandra Roman, a trans activist who is based in Mayagüez in western Puerto Rico, said a lack of education about trans Puerto Ricans and the Puerto Rico Police Department’s inadequate response to the violence are among the factors that have exacerbated the problem.
“The police don’t take it seriously,” said Roman.