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State mulls health care bill for immigrants, transgender community

A proponent of SB 5602 provides comments to the State Senate Friday. (TVW)

The Washington State Senate is weighing a bill that would dramatically expand health care and family planning services for immigrants and the transgender community.

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SB-5602 carries a handful of requirements that have often been at the forefront of heated discussions regarding health care.

First and foremost, it would require the state Health Care Authority to offer family planning services identical to those of Take Charge, regardless of the immigration status of applicants. Right now, Take Charge is not available for undocumented immigrants.

Take Charge is a program available to state residents that provides family planning education, FDA-approved birth control methods, permanent methods of birth control (i.e. vasectomies), screenings for cervical cancer, and well woman physical exams.

Secondly, beginning in 2021, health plans — and student health plans — would be required to provide coverage for:

  • Condoms, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the covered person
  • Screening following a sexual assault
  • Well-person preventative visits
  • “Medically necessary services” and medications for treating health care needs that arise from a sexual assault
  • Prenatal vitamins
  • Breast pumps for covered persons expecting the birth or adoption of a child

One of the core tenets of the bill is to address the health care needs of both undocumented immigrants and the transgender community. The text of SB-5602 cites a survey from 2015, where 32 percent of transgender respondents in the state reported that they did not see a doctor for immediate health needs because they could not afford it.

“With these vulnerable communities under attack, it’s important to take a bold stance to protect those who are hardest hit. This bill does just that,” said one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Democratic state Senator Emily Randall. “It allows our transgender and undocumented communities to access the essential reproductive health care they deserve.”

A public hearing was held for the bill on Friday, Feb. 15.

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“This bill is necessary to establish both parity and equity in access to reproductive health care services in our state,” Huma Zarif, Staff Attorney at Northwest Law Advocates, said during that public hearing.

“Transgender medical discrimination has a long history, and we have since made it clear that such denials of care are illegal, including insurance denials, solely based on someone being trans” said Tobi Hill-Meyer with the Gender Justice League. “Yet, whether through ignorance or greed, insurance companies have continued to deny life-saving cancer screenings and other treatments to trans people.”

SB-5602 is scheduled for executive session in the Washington State Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care on Friday, Feb. 22.

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