New changes to Medicare announced by Health Minister Tanya Plibersek on Tuesday will remove gender discrimination from the service and provide much-needed improvements for transgender and intersex people.
Under the changes, Australians accessing medical treatment through Medicare will receive it regardless of their legally registered sex. Previously, a number of treatments available through the service could only be accessed by people of a particular legal sex, leading to discrimination against many in the transgender and intersex communities.
“If you need a medical treatment under Medicare you should be able to get it without a discussion about or disclosure of your gender – male, female, transgender, or otherwise,” Plibersek said.
“At the moment, there are some Medicare services described as being for a man or a woman. This has caused discrimination against gender diverse Australians who have had to have unnecessary discussions about their gender identity in order to get access to a Medicare service, or to claim a rebate for one at a Medicare office.
“For example, someone who has a uterus may actually identify their gender as male. Under current arrangements, some Medicare-covered medical procedures involving the uterus are described as ‘female’ or for ‘women’.”
Plibersek said the changes bring Medicare policy in line with the government’s new ‘Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender,’ which came into effect at the start of the month.
Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia President Gina Wilson has been instrumental in campaigning for the changes to Medicare, and has been involved in ongoing consultation that began more than six months ago.
“In practical terms it means that if a person has mixed-sex anatomy, irrespective of how they may have been assigned when they were born or what sex is on their birth certificate or cardinal document, they will be treated according to their anatomical parts,” Wilson told the Star Observer.
Wilson said the changes are the result of years of campaigning by groups like OII Australia, and praised the support of Plibersek and her predecessor in the Health portfolio, Nicola Roxon.
“It’s been part of our brief from the beginning…and in this we’ve also had a strong alliance with trans* people, because there are some shared issues so far as Medicare is concerned, and also true of PBS [Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme] medications,” Wilson said.
“The current Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has been absolutely amazing in speeding up the process and getting this through. It’s just fabulous.”
Sally Goldner from Transgender Victoria also applauded the changes, and spoke to the Star Observer about what they mean for the Australia’s transgender community.
“It’s great because it recognises the diversity of bodies and identity, and relates Medicare to a person rather than a sex or gender identity, and that means people will get healthcare that is accurate for who they are…rather than who someone perceives them to be.”
Goldner said a number of specific instances of discrimination helped bring the issue to light, including a case from within the transgender community of a trans* man who had a medical issue relating to a remaining ovary after already changing his legal status to ‘male’.
“When that person applied to Medicare to go into hospital they said, ‘Oh no, that’s a female only operation. You’ve got an ‘M’ on your certificate, that’s Medicare fraud, you can’t get a rebate’. So, pretty devastating that someone, a person who has a health need, couldn’t get it [treatment]. That sort of thing is now gone,” Goldner explained.
This is the latest in a number of successes for gender diversity activism in Australia, following the recent passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill and the introduction of the new government guidelines.
These changes have so far been met with little or no backlash from conservative lobbyists, despite continued opposition to marriage equality and the removal of anti-discrimination exemptions for religious organisations.