Colorado expands gender-affirming care essential benefits on certain insurance plans

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DENVER – State and federal officials announced Tuesday that more gender-affirming care and mental and behavioral health care would be covered as essential health benefits on Colorado’s individual and small-group health insurance plans starting in 2023.The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the approval of Colorado’s request to expand its essential health benefits to include more gender-affirming care for LGBTQ+ people, making the state the first in the nation to have such coverage approved, CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said at a news conference alongside Gov. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, Insurance Commissioner Mike Conway and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, Tuesday morning.The additions to essential health benefit coverage in 2023 are headlined by the gender-affirming care, which will expand the services insurance companies have to cover beyond what they already include in that vein.“Coverage varies greatly by insurance company, and is not always comprehensive and may include explicit exclusions for certain services, even if a health care provider determines a service to be medically necessary,” the governor’s office said in a news release.CMS say the additional care that will be covered include eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling, breast and chest reduction and construction and laser hair removal.“Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit,” Brooks-LaSure said in a statement.Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, who is Colorado’s first transgender lawmaker, said she was proud of Colorado’s move to include more gender-affirming coverage.“For too long, too many transgender and nonbinary people have struggled to access the health care they need, despite having health insurance,” she said in a statement. “These services are critical for the health and safety of LGBTQ+ communities and will provide more Coloradans with the agency they need to affirm their identities.”Other essential health benefits added to Colorado’s coverage by the CMS include a yearly mental health wellness exam from a qualified mental health care provider, the coverage of six annual acupuncture treatments to address substance use disorder, and the addition of 15 drugs that can be used as alternatives to opioids when doctors are writing prescriptions.Polis and Conway, the Colorado insurance commissioner, said the added coverage would only increase costs by 64 cents per month for people on individual and small-group market plans, which both said would be greatly offset by the long-term benefits.The state says the new essential health benefits coverage will also apply to Colorado Option plans when they go online for 2023. Officials said about 20% to 25% of Coloradans are covered on individual or small-group health insurance plans.Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, claimed the new covered benefits were “bad for the American worker” and amounted to “insurance mandates.”“Policies like these will only increase costs for Coloradans. They will increase the bureaucratic and regulatory burden on consumers, providers, employers and insurers. Employees will pay the price at the end of the day,” he said in a statement.The last time Colorado modified its plan for essential health benefits under the Affordable Care Act was in 2015. The state submitted its plan for 2023 in May after four months of discussions between a working group, consumers, insurance companies and health care providers.“We’ve made great strides in making health insurance more affordable in Colorado, but this is a huge step in making sure the benefits in that insurance are more inclusive and meaningful,” Conway said in a statement.Denver7’s Liz Gelardi contributed to this report.