Sounding Board: Processing benefit plan requests to change gender is easy

There’s no doubt awareness of gender identity has come a long way in 2016, a trend Canadian benefit plans are starting to see.

Compared to previous years, requests to reassign a plan member’s gender and complete a name change are on the rise.

While the numbers are still low, the nature of the requests speaks volumes about the progression society has made. Many of them, for example, come from the plan administrator, meaning plan members felt comfortable reporting their change of gender identity to their human resources team. That’s incredibly meaningful because many transgender individuals still fear discrimination or termination.

Read: Employers urged to prepare for new transgender rights bill

There are broader questions as well. Do plans still need to ask for gender when enrolling new members? The biologic sex does make a difference when underwriting for life insurance and long-term disability premiums. Because women, on average, live longer than men, they represent a higher risk for long-term disability insurance policies. Men, on the other hand, represent a higher risk for life insurance policies. Insurers aren’t likely to normalize premiums across both sexes, so we have to continue to ask the question.

It’s also important to include multiple data points, such as sex, date of birth and address and more, in plan members’ profiles as a check against benefit fraud. While it’s rare, there have been cases of plan members lending their benefits card to family members or friends who may resemble them. The friend or relative may be able to convince a provider to bill the plan, so data checkpoints will always have to be part of a benefits system.

Read: How to support transgender employees

The process of reassigning a plan member’s gender is no more difficult than changing the last name of someone who gets married. There’s no need for awkward questions or processes. It’s important, then, to send a message to other transgender individuals who are considering coming out that changing their gender and name with their benefits provider is easy to do.

Yafa Sakkejha is the general manager of the Beneplan Co-operative.