Board also announces plans to hire next UI president by January to succeed Bob Easter
URBANA — University of Illinois trustees approved a proposal Thursday to cover gender reassignment surgery as part of the student health insurance plan at the Urbana campus.
The board voted 8-2 to approve student insurance rates for 2014-15, which include a small premium to cover the surgery. Trustee Timothy Koritz and Urbana student Trustee Michael Cunningham voted no.
Koritz argued that it was ill-advised to cover such an irreversible medical procedure that affects reproduction.
Trustee Ed McMillan said the surgery wasn't mandated by the Affordable Care Act as other treatments in the insurance plan are, including counseling and hormonal treatment for transgender conditions.
But other trustees said they were swayed by public speakers who outlined the extensive testing needed before the surgery can be performed, and the consequences, including the risk of suicide, for those who don't get treatment.
Sex or gender reassignment surgery is the medical process by which transgender people change their physical, sexual characteristics to reflect their gender identity. The procedure is not elective and is a medically recognized treatment for those who do not identify with the physical sex of their bodies, speakers said.
"The fact is that it is a medical condition that needs to be addressed medically and the consequences of not having it can be devastating," said Trustee James Montgomery.
Trustee Patricia Brown Holmes said the information was helpful, but it's not the board's role to decide on individual treatments.
"That treatment is between the individual and their physician," she said. "I don't know a lot about a whole bunch of diseases. I'm not a doctor, but that doesn't mean I can't vote to cover those treatments."
Trustees approved a similar plan last spring for the Chicago campus, where students had pushed for the coverage for two years.
UI junior Stephanie Skora, president of the Campus Union for Trans*Equality and Support was "elated" by the vote.
"The Board of Trustees really listened to us and took a major step forward in terms of equality at the university," Skora said.
Only about 1 percent of the 15 percent rate increase will go toward the gender surgery coverage. About 13 percent would go toward fees and coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
Undergraduates would pay less than $2 per semester for the benefit, and graduate students would pay less than $3. Overall rates would rise by $37 a semester for undergraduates, to $291. Graduate students would pay $48 more a semester for graduate students, or $376.
Students have the option of purchasing insurance through the university, but it is not mandatory. Students are required to have insurance but can remain on their parents' policies.
Cunningham complained that the proposal just appeared on his desk 17 days ago, even though discussions had been under way since August. He said a petition opposing the coverage is circulating on campus.
"There's still a lot of students who have a lot of questions and want their voices heard," he said.
Romano noted that students had requested the coverage, a student insurance committee approved it, the Illinois Student Senate supported it in a resolution last week, and a town hall meeing on insurance drew no objections. It was also supported by the Graduate Employees' Organization and an online peititon with 2,500 signatures, she said.
Student trustees from Springfield and Urbana spoke in support of the coverage.
Supporters gathered outside the meeting to rally for the coverage, as they did at a board committee meeting in February.
Also this morning, the UI announced its plans to choose a new president by next January to allow for a smooth transition before Easter retires in June 2015.
The board approved a format for a 19-member search committee that will be appointed in May to recruit and review candidates for the university's top executive post. It will include three trustees, eight faculty members from the three campuses, one student from each campus, one academic professional, one civil service staff member, one administrative officer, one member from the UI Alumni Association and one member from the UI Foundation.
The committee's duties will include developing job qualifications and expectations for the new president, and then identifying and screening potential candidates. Trustees will make the final decision.
Easter became the UI's 19th president on July 1, 2012, after 36 years as a faculty member, dean, provost and chancellor on the Urbana-Champaign campus. He succeeded Michael Hogan, who resigned following a scandal involving his former chief of staff.
Trustees also approved:
1. A package of contracts for the State Farm Center renovation worth almost $87 million. They include $25 million to Grunloh Construction of Effingham; $24 million to A&R Mechanical of Urbana; and $16.2 million to Oberlander Electric of Peoria. With the home basketball season over, major construction on the $165 million project gets underway shortly.
2. A $50 million renovation for Everitt Laboratory, former headquarters for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, which is moving to a new $90 million building. Everitt will now be used for the Department of Bioengineering.
3. A total of $41.6 million in contracts for the second phase of the new residence hall at the Ikenberry Commons, the third to be built in that complex. It's scheduled to be completed by May 2016.
4. An honorary degree for Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Phillip Sharp, who received his doctorate in chemistry from the UI.