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Medicare will now cover transgender surgical procedures

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The Obama administration announced today that transgender people who receive Medicare will no longer be denied coverage for sex reassignment surgeries — at least not automatically.

The move comes as a surprise to many, despite a recent shift in public opinion regarding trans issues, as illustrated by the cover of this week's TIME. "This decision removes a threshold barrier to coverage for medical care for transgender people under Medicare," said the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in a statement, adding that "it is consistent with the consensus of the medical and scientific community that access to gender transition-related care is medically necessary for many people with gender dysphoria."

documents stating that the procedure is medically indicated

Spurred by an appeal request made on the behalf of 74-year old Army veteran Denee Mallon — she was denied coverage two years ago — the health agency's Departmental Appeals Board ruled that a 30-year ban on transgender surgical procedures was unjustified, the AP reports. But the ruling doesn't mean that Medicare recipients are now entitled to have sex reassignment surgeries covered by the government. Rather, it will allow people to request coverage by submitting documents from their doctors and mental health professionals stating that the procedure is medically indicated.

At the moment, many private health insurers and state-run Medicaid programs don't cover transgender surgical procedures. But these insurers tend to follow the federal government's lead, so that may soon change.

It's too early to tell how many people will benefit from the US government's decision. But considering that an estimated 0.3 percent of the US population identifies as trans, and the current population covered by Medicare consists of about 49 million Americans, it's safe to assume that thousands of people covered by Medicare are ecstatic right now — in addition to all the other trans-allies that the US is quickly gathering, of course.