A little more than a year ago, Oregon became the fourth state to offer Medicaid coverage for gender transition. I thought I would follow someone through the process of using the new benefit. A few people agreed, but after a few weeks or months, they backed out. They kept running into roadblocks, bureaucratic red tape that sent them into depressed states.
I kept talking to one person as she tried over and over again to get help. Eventually, I realized that was the story. Over the last year, I spoke with about 75 patients, doctors and insurance representations. The result is a new series -- Lost in Transition -- that launches in the Oregonian this weekend. Michelle Storm's story, as well as a few sidebars, make up the first part. The series will continue in to the summer.
LIFE ON LAYAWAY
Michelle Storm has spent her life closing her eyes when she takes a shower.
She knew in grade school that she is female, not the boy her parents thought they were raising. As an adult, after a stint in the Army, she legally changed her name and started referring to herself as "she." And then she started taking estrogen.
That was nearly two decades ago. The 42-year-old still feels queasy when she removes her clothes. What she wants most is a surgery she says will finally finish correcting her gender.
"I hate the anatomy I currently have," she said, "with an utter passion."
Last year, for the first time, the Oregon Health Plan decided to cover medical services for low-income transgender people. Since then, doctors, insurance representatives and even a U.S. senator have tried to help Storm, an Army veteran who cannot afford the $30,000 surgery, to get what she needs.
More than a year later, she is still waiting.