News / Halifax

'Big surprise' for advocate as province to start funding gender reassignment surgery

For Kate Shewan, the last week has been a “rollercoaster.”

On Wednesday, the province announced it would cover gender reassignment surgery, just days after the health minister sent a letter to the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) saying the procedure wouldn’t be paid for.

“To actually come around and say ‘yes they are (paying),’ was a big surprise,” said Shewan, treasurer with the NSRAP.

“I was overjoyed with that really, really exciting news.”

Health minister David Wilson said the surgeries will be covered under MSI, and section 4.8 of the Physician’s Manual that prohibits funding for the procedure will be immediately removed.

Wilson said the change came after meeting with NSRAP, reviewing medical evidence, and examining if there were any barriers for Nova Scotians who wanted government support for the surgery.

“When we do have legislation or policies in place that are hindering those individuals from moving forward, and ensuring they can gain access to the services they need, then we need to change that,” Wilson said.

“This decision really comes down to doing the right thing.”

Kevin Kindred, NSRAP chair, said likely 6 to 8 people a year would receive the surgery, based on the numbers in seven other provinces already providing funding.

“There has to be patient-by-patient assessment that it is medically necessary, so it’s not simply a matter of demand, just like you and I can’t insist on having heart surgery,” Kindred said.

Kindred said the ballpark cost for the surgeries ranges between $30-60,000.

Shewan said this surgery is “a little bit different” than other funding shortfalls the public hopes to have covered because the restrictions were targeting a specifically marginalized community.

"It will make them feel like it’s going to allow them to be a complete person,” said Shewan of the surgery.

Wilson said he has spoken with Doctors Nova Scotia, and over the next few weeks the department will form a policy outlining what procedures will be covered.

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