Medicare can no longer deny requests for sex change surgeries, the U.S. government said on Friday, in a decision that recognizes the procedures as a treatment option for gender identity disorder.
A review panel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the three-decade-long blanket ban on treatments covered by the national health program for the elderly and disabled was based on outdated scientific evidence that questioned the effectiveness and safety of the operation.
Ruling in favor of army veteran Denee Mallon, whose request for sex change surgery was denied in May 2013, the panel said "transsexual surgery is an effective treatment option for (gender identity disorder) in appropriate cases."
Gender identity disorder, or the overwhelming desire to change one's sex, can cause intense emotional suffering, debilitating depression, and suicidal thoughts, the panel noted.
"The medical consensus is clear that access to healthcare for gender transition is a critical medical need for many transgender people," said Ilona Turner, Legal Director for the Transgender Law Center.
"Transgender people deserve the same access as everyone else to the medical treatment they need," Turner said.
The government has 30 days to implement the change, although it can deny payment for the surgery on a case by case basis, the decision stated.
© 2016 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.