The transgender population worldwide is one of the most underserved in the health insurance marketplace. Trans individuals face a number of barriers to receiving full healthcare coverage and the impacts are far-reaching. In the United States there are 30 states that still allow health plans to exclude trans-related care from coverage. However, there are many studies showing that gender dysphoria that is untreated can lead to a wide range of health issues, including depression, drug abuse and suicide.
As awareness of the needs of the LGBTQ community grows within corporations, insurance companies are increasingly answering the call to innovate and adapt to the needs of trans customers. MJV Technology & Innovation is a leading consulting firm to large insurance companies on creating solutions to better serve the customer journey. They have increasingly encountered providers who want to provide new offerings to the transgender market. As a topic that doesn’t have nearly enough dialogue, I sat down with MJV’s CEO Mauricio Vianna about the opportunities that could be on the horizon for the insurance industry.
What are the challenges that the transgender community currently faces in the health insurance marketplace?
Mauricio Vianna: The healthcare system still mirrors most of the same challenges we see in the broader society: discrimination, harassment, financial barriers and the lack of professionals who are knowledgeable on the topic.
Transgender health issues used to be classified as a ‘mental disorder’ by the World Health Organization until three years ago. That means most companies haven’t really had to deal with this issue until very recently, it’s a massive cultural change that needs to happen. And because these individuals have been excluded in so many ways, it’s often not easy to find proper jobs, medical care and even acceptance from their own families.
The financial struggle is the first barrier to private health care, as costs can really add up when you’re paying for it on your own and you don’t have a reliable source of income. The second barrier is the unpreparedness of the industry, leading to embarrassing situations that start with the assigned name on their official documents not matching their gender identification. Transgender individuals also often have difficulties approving medical care for the transsexualizing process. And for all those reasons, many seek alternative treatment in places where they feel they are understood, which unfortunately doesn’t always have a happy ending.
What are some of the benefits that insurance companies could realize by better serving LGBT customers?
MV: The LGBTQIA+ community -where T stands for transgender- has been known to be very loyal to the companies they trust by supporting and promoting them within their peers, so customer loyalty is a big one. By catering to the transgender community, a company will potentially have positive exposure to the entire LGBTQIA+ community. Keep in mind that this community is also very aware of ‘pinkwashing’ so when trying to break into this segment it’s crucial that you do your homework and adapt your services. They are looking for partners who truly care about these issues and are willing to get involved.
Another important benefit is related to attracting and retaining top talent. LGBTQIA+ employees as well as their non-LGBTQIA+ allies want to work for inclusive companies. An article by HBR says that “inclusive policies for LGBTQIA+ individuals send a friendliness cue that resonates with other employees, even when they are not active allies” and it makes sense.
What innovations are underway in the marketplace to meet more of the needs of trans customers?
MV: I believe there is a huge space for co-creating inclusive experiences with the customer, for the customer, in a user-centric approach. The first step is listening to the community and understanding their needs from their perspective, because this segment is still very new to most corporations. Once there is a good understanding of this customer journey and the specific pain points, we can then start collaborating to create change in company culture, in services and in the user experience as a whole. There is a lot of work to be done and it’s still a bit of a blue ocean when it comes to health insurance.
What are the challenges to making it a reality?
MV: As with any significant market disruption, the biggest challenge is corporate culture, that is at the root of all other challenges relating to this. First and foremost, there needs to be a true understanding of the issues we are facing as a society -especially in the last year and a half that we have been talking about inclusion more than ever- and how they are impacting the business moving forward. I recommend a top-down-bottom-up approach, which is also an inclusive one. It needs to be on the top management agenda but it also needs to come from the company workers.
Are there financial costs to insurance companies to adapt their offering to LGBT communities?
MV: I think there are many opportunities for change that don’t necessarily require a high investment such as sales and customer support, by adapting channels, interfaces and processes to be LGBTQIA+ inclusive and better serve your clients. Training is also a good starting point for creating awareness internally.
Other areas might require a bit more time and resources for rethinking policies, services and the current company mindset. This could be a mid-term goal, working with Agile to test and adjust initiatives as you go.