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Funding sex reassignment ‘right thing to do’: Nova Scotia heatlh minister

Health minister changes his mind after consultation with local activists

Kevin Kindred is the chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Program (NSRAP). Credit: Katie Toth
Update: David Wilson, Nova Scotia’s minister of health and wellness, says that Section 4.8 of the province’s health insurance act — the section that bars trans people from having their surgeries covered — will be repealed “immediately.”

The minister has spent the last several weeks in meetings on the issue with an eye to reversing the government’s position of not funding the transition process. Then, yesterday, the department released a letter reiterating the government’s position that the surgery would not be funded. That provoked Wilson to announce the government’s reversal.

He says the department may have been behind the ball and noted that, when they evaluate an issue, “often what’s left out is connecting with organizations like the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project.”

Consultations like that, he says, helped pushed him to realize that “the policy we had didn’t recognize the values of the NDP or the government.

“This is the right thing to do,” he says.

While he’s still unsure what the exact policies will look like — whether every aspect of transitioning will be covered or just the surgery itself — or when it will be in place, removing the barriers could open the door for it all to happen very quickly.
“The end goal is that Nova Scotians who look at the option of gender reassignment surgery can do that and know it will be covered.”

Nova Scotia set to fund sex reassignment surgery

June 12, 10am – Nova Scotia will be picking up the tab for sex reassignment surgery after all.

The province’s Ministry of Health had sent out a letter on June 10 announcing that, after consultation, the province would not fund sex reassignment surgery (SRS). That put it alongside only New Brunswick and PEI, which also don’t cover the procedure.

Trans activists expressed disappointment with the decision, especially since the province’s NDP government passed a landmark Trans Rights Act in 2012.

But Xtra can now confirm that the province, contrary to the department’s letter, is aiming to fund SRS. Minister David Wilson will be pushing to have the procedure covered under provincial health insurance, according to Kevin Kindred, the chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Program (NSRAP). He spoke with Xtra after meeting with the minister and says he’s cautiously optimistic about the government’s position. Xtra is awaiting comment from the minister.
But, Kindred adds, “we don’t have details about what the end goal will be or what the next step will be. We also don’t have a timeline.”
The minister iterated to Kindred, however, that the province won’t just be doing another round of consultations or reports – the province will fund SRS.
That’s good news, says Kindred, but he says the NSRAP won’t be resting on its laurels. “We are going to stay on top of this.”
A provincial election is around the corner, and the governing New Democrats are facing a challenge from opposition Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil. His party committed to funding SRS in 2008, but Kindred notes he “described it as not a high priority.”
NSRAP is encouraging the community to get active and put pressure on both the government and the opposition parties.
Most provinces offer some level of funding, whether it’s only the surgery or all aspects of the transition and its associated costs, like chest bindings. Some, like Ontario and Alberta, have moved to defund the procedure in the past, only to reverse the decision in response to pressure.
Nova Scotia has long been cited as a poor example of how a province accommodates those looking to undergo the transition process. Kindred notes that there is an “upfront ban” on any SRS. The only step that’s covered is the initial consultations and counselling.
The province is so loath to cover trans people that even surgeries such as hysterectomies have been refused because the patient is trans. One trans Nova Scotian filed a human rights complaint after being refused coverage for a necessary operation.

Elizabeth Malette went through the Nova Scotia healthcare system when she transitioned. She recently moved from Halifax to Toronto in hopes of finding easier access to the surgery she needs. She underwent the relatively affordable hormone therapy process while in Nova Scotia, but notes that the healthcare system can be prohibitively expensive and obstructionist for trans people in the province.
“My own experience with transition has been long and varied. It’s a pretty windy process that involves successfully jumping through a lot of hoops and can be very, very stressful,” Malette told Xtra. She notes that the price tag for the full procedure climbs into the tens of thousands for those who live in Nova Scotia.
The province passed amendments to the Human Rights Act last year that included gender identity as a protected class.

“Making this change is the right thing to do. Transgender Nova Scotians deserve the same legal protection that the rest of us take for granted,” Justice Minister Ross Landry said in a 2012 press release.