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CDC Urged to Stop Denying Transwomen Cancer Screenings

by Justin Snow
Sunday Oct 27, 2013
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Thomas Frieden
Thomas Frieden  (Source:HHS photo by Chris Smith)

Two national LGBT-rights organizations are calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to re-evaluate a discriminatory policy that denies cancer screenings to transgender women.

In a letter to the CDC sent by the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality, the two groups insist a CDC policy that denies subsidized cancer screening to low-income transgender women under the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act of 1990 because they are not considered women is "clearly discriminatory, dangerous to the health of an at-risk population, inconsistent with prevailing recommendations for transgender health care and at odds with current federal policy ensuring access to care for transgender individuals."

"The CDC policy denying transgender women equal access to cancer screening puts individuals at personal risk and generally exacerbates the health disparities and poor health outcomes experienced by the transgender community," the letter states.

The letter comes amid reports that a transgender woman in Colorado is suing after a state-run health care program turned her away for free breast-cancer screenings because she is "not genetically female."

According to Denver’s KUSA, 62-year-old Jennifer Blair filed a complaint under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act after being forced to pay for a mammogram that would have otherwise been covered under federal law. She was determined to be cancer-free, but advocates argue her case reveals inconsistencies between CDC policy and "well-established administrative precedent and the strong federal commitment to ending health disparities resulting from lack of access to care."

While CDC guidelines issued in January 2012 stipulate transgender men are still eligible for free breast cancer screenings "since their cancer risk remains the same," transgender women are not.

In the Oct. 18 letter to CDC Director Tom Frieden, the two LGBT-rights organizations note that the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan requires carriers to provide necessary preventive services to insured transgender patients and the Department of Health and Human Services has issued guidance interpreting parts of the Affordable Care Act as prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

"Breast cancer screenings save lives and should be available to all women, period," said Shane Snowdon, director of the HRC Health & Aging Program, in a statement. "This policy isn’t simply discriminatory, it’s dangerous, and we hope our leaders at the CDC will address it immediately."

According to Harper Jean Tobin, NCTE director of policy, the exclusion of transgender women has no legitimate basis and contradicts accepted medical standards. "That is irrational discrimination, plain and simple," Tobin said in a statement. "We hope and expect that the CDC will act swiftly to make clear that these programs must serve all women."

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