As the U.S. military studies the implications of lifting a ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces, a new study says that the cost of providing transition-related health care to those service members would be about $5.6 million a year, or “little more than a rounding error in the military's $47.8 billion annual health care budget.”
After U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced in mid-July that that Department of Defense would look into lifting the ban, opponents expressed concern about the potential high costs of providing care to transgender individuals. In last week’s debate among Republican presidential candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he wasn’t sure “how paying for transgender surgery for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines makes our country safer.”
The new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 12,800 transgender troops currently serve and are eligible for health care in the U.S., but only 188 transgender service members would require transition-related care annually. Aaron Belkin, the San Francisco State University researcher who conducted the survey, checked for accuracy using data from the Australian military, which already covers transition-related care, and compared costs with insurance plans offered to University of California employees and their dependents.
Belkin emphasized that costs could be lower than expected for several reasons. Among those, transition-related care would mitigate other serious and potentially costly conditions, such as suicidal thoughts, and might improve job performance.
Acknowledging that the costs might be higher than he estimates, Belkin still says they would be too low to matter and shouldn’t be a factor in deciding whether the ban is lifted or not.
In June, the American Medical Association said there is “no medically valid reason” to prohibit transgender individuals from serving in the military.
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Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters that the nearly $2 billion that had already been spent on the program wasn’t wasted because “we are still going to get upgraded electronic displays.”
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