Denee Mallon, a 74-year-old Army veteran who was born a man but has been living as a woman for many years, says she plans on having sex-reassignment surgery to match her persona thanks to a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services Friday to cover the surgery under Medicare.
"This is a big, big decision; I've wanted the operation since I was probably 11 years old and knew about it," said Mallon, an Albuquerque resident in an interview with The New York Times.
"Ever since the first story about Christine Jorgensen came out, I knew that's what I needed to do," she noted, pointing to a former Army private who had a sex-change in 1952.
An HHS appeals board ruled last Friday that a 1981 Medicare policy to exclude sex-reassignment surgery from coverage is "no longer reasonable" because the surgery is now widely accepted as safe and effective, according to the Times.
Mallon, who challenged the policy after her request to have a sex-change under Medicare was denied, said she needs the surgery to feel complete and will go through with it despite her advanced age.
"I expect a certain amount of criticism because of my age — generally you're considered over the hill at 70, why have an operation — but it's a medical decision, and I want congruence between what I am as a human and my body," she said.
Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, who filed the challenge on Mallon's behalf, told the Times that the HHS decision now brings Medicare policy into the 21st century on transgender issues.
"The decision brings federal Medicare policy up to 21st-century standards for transgender people, and acknowledges that there's no scientific or medical basis for categorically excluding coverage of sex reassignment surgery for people who need it," said Levi.