The Transgender Effect – Changing Business, Policy & Perception

Former Olympian Bruce Jenner, who holds two gold medals, may give the Transgender community one of its biggest wins yet. In his interview Friday with Disney’s (DIS) ABC Anchor Diane Sawyer, he is expected to break his silence about transitioning to a female.

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*Update: Since publication Jenner confirmed "For all intents and purposes I'm a Woman'' on ABC's 20/20 which drew nearly 17 million viewers.  

Jenner isn’t the only one bringing fresh attention to the transgender community, many Fortune 500 companies including Apple (AAPL), Goldman Sachs (GS), and Target (TGT) are among the 55% that offer at least one transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage plan, as ranked by Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI) survey.

Goldman began offering these benefits in 2008, according to the firm. Since then more corporations are following suit says HRC. 418 of the nation’s top businesses and law firms offer transgender-inclusive health care coverage, up from just 49 in 2009. In 2002, no Fortune 500 companies had transgender-inclusive health care coverage in their plans.

Politics Is Playing a Role

Last year, the Obama Administration ended a 33-year ban on Medicare coverage for gender reassignment surgeries. “Many large companies and university programs have now incorporated benefits for transgenders in their coverage,” says Loren Schechter M.D., a Chicago based surgeon, who performed the first sex reassignment under Medicare last year.

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This has prompted insurance companies to roll out more options.  Insurer Aetna (AET) currently covers gender reassignment surgery in 33 plans offered to federal employees through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The company tells FoxBusiness.com. “We are also expanding coverage of gender reassignment surgery in many of our fully insured commercial plans outside of the FEHBP starting this year.”

“We are keenly aware of the value of diversity, and how an inclusive environment strengthens our business and creates new opportunities for us in the marketplace,” said Mark Bertolini, Aetna Chairman and CEO, in a statement to FoxBusiness.com. The company also noted it is one of the few that started offering coverage for gender reassignment in 2009.

Hollywood Taps Transgender Community

Not only is change in the air, it’s on the air. Amazon’s (AMZN) “Transparent,” recently scored the company its first-ever Golden Globe. While Netflix’s (NFLX) “Orange is the New Black” and Fox’s “Glee,” have also received critical acclaim. Fox is a unit of 21th Century Fox the parent company of FoxBusiness.com.

“The public now has a better understanding of transgender individuals then they did before, said Paul Weiss, M.D., a Manhattan based plastic surgeon that has been specializing in transgender surgeries for over 20 years.

Weiss says it makes a big difference when more and more insurance companies start adding the procedures to their health plans.

Part two of our Interview: From He to She: Inside one Former Marine’s Journey: Meet Kendall Nichole Balentine whose gender change will usher in a new life and ALL that goes with it. 

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