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Cincinnati adds Transgender procedures to benefits

CINCINNATI (Sydney Benter) -- Starting next year, transgender procedures will be covered by Cincinnati's health insurance.

A letter from City Council prompted the city's interim manager, Scott Stiles, to make the change last week. In a statement, Stiles said, "This positions us well for progress and keeps the city competitive as an employer."

The change is catapulting Cincinnati to the top of a list of LGBT-friendly cities.

"We're a major employer--over 5,000 employees--and what we have to do is make sure that our benefit programs under their health insurance are what they should be in terms of other employers and in terms of medical needs of our employees," said Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann.

The city has decided that it will start covering medically necessary transgender procedures. Council member Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay member of council, led the charge on the update.

He said in a statement, "Following the lead of Procter & Gamble, GE, U.S. Bank, Johnson & Johnson and many others, I join the Mayor and a majority of Council in supporting the City Manager's decision to extend transgender inclusive healthcare to city employees. This is an important step as we thrive to compete for talent and jobs in a competitive economy."

Scott Knox is an attorney who handles LGBT legal issues. He helped push the change through City Hall.

"This is part of being welcoming and saying, if you're the best for that position we want to keep you here. We don't care if you're black or gay or transgendered or male or female. If you're the good person for that job we want to keep you. This is a means for doing that," said Knox.

Ya'riah Milton lives in Cincinnati and says that the move, and the statement it makes, mean a lot to the transgender community.

"I think it's going to be a lot of things changing, there's going to be a lot of people that's mad, but they're just going to have to accept it because we are who we are," said Milton.

The Human Rights Campaign rates cities based on how welcoming they are to the LGBT community.  This new coverage gives Cincinnati a 100 percent rating on their scale after a score of 90 last year. It's something Knox says gives the city a leg up from an economic standpoint.

"It's the rating they're going to look to see is that a place that welcomes us for our talent and doesn't care that I'm transgendered or that I'm gay."

Columbus is the only city in Ohio to score a 100 last year. Indianapolis scored a 66 and Louisville and Lexington were in the 50s.  Cities like Seattle and San Francisco have already made these changes to their health care coverage. Knox said San Francisco set up a fund with a surcharge in case people flocked to the city to have the procedures. It quickly did away with that when officials realized the demand didn't require it. He said Seattle's costs increased by only .08 percent.

Shane Morgan, the founder and chair of TransOhio, a transgender advocacy group, said in a statement, "All employees need access to health care - and some individuals who work for the city just also happen to be transgender. I'm hoping that other cities in Ohio will follow.  Maybe some healthy competition will be good for our state."

CLICK HERE for HRC ratings.

CLICK HERE for TransOhio information.

CLICK HERE for letter from City Council to city manager.

CLICK HERE for letter from city manager to Anthem.

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