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Companies offer health benefits to transgender workers

BY MATTHEW PERRONE
AP HEALTH WRITER

WASHINGTON -- When Koset Surakomol decided to have a sex change operation, the company she worked for told her co-workers that the man they'd labored alongside for a dozen years should be addressed as a woman going forward.

But EMC Corp.'s support didn't end there: The data storage company paid tens of thousands of dollars for her to undergo hormone therapy, breast augmentation and facial contouring. It also will foot the bill later this year when Surakomol has the operation that will complete her transformation — a benefit EMC began offering in 2007.

"I got no bad reactions, no cold shoulders," says Surakomol, an information technology engineer. "All I heard was, 'This is wonderful.'"

It's a story that would've been unheard of a decade ago. EMC, which has 60,000 employees, is one of a growing number of Fortune 500 companies expanding their health care benefits to meet the needs of workers who have gender dysphoria, the medical term for those who identify themselves as the opposite gender that they were assigned at birth.

Despite the gains in coverage for these transgender employees, many companies are unwilling to speak publicly about their benefits. But Delia Vetter, director of benefits at Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC, says, "Everyone has a right to be naturally happy."

From Apple to General Mills, nearly one fourth of Fortune 500 companies cover medical expenses associated with transgender care, according to gay and transgender rights group Human Rights Campaign. That's up from 19 percent last year. When the group began tracking transgender benefits in 2002, no Fortune 500 companies offered them.

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