Cancer Care Refused to Transgender Man; Under ACA, It's Against the Law to Discriminate Against LGBT

Jay Kallio
Image Jay Kallio

At 50 years old, Jay Kallio, a former EMT, made a transition from female to male. He chose to undergo hormone therapy rather than gender reassignment surgery, saying that he accepted the body into which he was born. Kallio is disabled from kidney failure, has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and now has cancer.

Kallio found a suspicious lump on her breast and underwent a biopsy. But when the medical oncologist found the existence of a tumor, he says that he became so flustered when Kallio's biological body did not match his identification on the form that he did not even tell Kallio that he had breast cancer. In fact, Kallio discovered the diagnosis by accident, when the lab technician called and asked how he was feeling with his diagnosis.

"Which diagnosis?" Kallio asked, shocked.

Jay Kallio is not the only person whose medical care suffered as a result of discrimination against transgender people. According to a 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality survey, one in five transgender individuals reported being denied health care by a doctor, clinic, hospital, or ambulance driver. In a particular egregious case, in 1995, 24-year-old Tyra Hunter, who had been living as a woman since the age of 14, was left unconscious and died at the scene of a car accident. Firefighters removed her clothing and, when they saw her anatomy, stopped providing care and delayed life-saving treatment.

For Kallio, the oncologist refused to refer him to medical treatments. The oncologist later apologized, but said that his conduct toward Kallio did not interfere with the quality of care. In fact, in all likelihood, it did; the search for new doctors delayed Kallio's treatment with therapy beyond the start of the optimal "therapeutic window" for his particularly aggressive breast cancer. And now, since Kallio has switched to an HMO that does not cover his old, preferred oncologist, Kallio's hunt for a new physician has left him uncertain about whether the cancer has returned.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Under the Affordable Care Act, it is against the law to discriminate against LGBT individuals in federally funded healthcare programs. If a doctor mixes up the genders consistently or treats the person in an unkind way, the patient has the ability to file a complaint. The law stops short of requiring insurance coverage, but does require basic respect.

Kallio said to ABC News, "It is very important to me and other people that we don't face those kinds of obstacles. I am medically savvy with a medical background, white and speak English. If I have every advantage, it doesn't bode well for other people."

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