Starting this fall, the student health insurance plan at the University of Illinois-Chicago will cover sex-change surgery.
University trustees agreed to allow the coverage at their regular meeting Wednesday in Chicago, but only after a relatively unusual discussion about whether the procedure could lead to taxpayer funding being used for a procedure some taxpayers don't approve of. In most cases, trustees vote on items on their meeting agendas with little discussion.
Trustees voted 8-2 to pass the new policy along with a 15 percent increase in the annual cost to students. They will pay $922 a year starting this fall. A fraction of the increase -- about $9 -- is due to the addition of the sex-change option.
Trustees Timothy Koritz and Edward McMillan, both Republicans, voted against the change. Koritz is an anesthesiologist and said he wouldn't be comfortable providing anesthesia for sex-change surgery. And both men raised concerns about taxpayer funding.
"I just hope that doesn't put us as a university, the Chicago campus in particular, in a difficult position with parents particularly who feel that (they shouldn't have to help pay for it)," McMillan said.
But Trustee Patrick Fitzgerald, considered a political independent, said he wouldn't be comfortable if trustees considered "how comfortable taxpayers would feel" about every potential medical procedure.
The former U.S. attorney also noted before voting for the change that at least a handful of other schools have insurance plans that cover the relatively rare surgery.
"The notion that people would go through it likely is very low," he said.
The university said that about 11,500 of the 27,000 UIC students use the student health plan. The change in health insurance coverage doesn't affect the university's flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign or the smaller Springfield campus.
A student committee from the Chicago campus brought the idea to trustees.
Students are automatically assessed the insurance fee but can opt out if they have other coverage.