By Tim Hafke (He/Him)

Finding the right providers can be a lengthy, daunting process for a queer or trans person. We have healthcare needs that must be met but are not always understood by every medical professional. That’s why there’s no underscoring the importance of providers who are not only affirming but are educated on how to facilitate our healthcare journeys. When we’re met with discrimination rather than compassion from providers, it can deter us from seeking help. Being a cis, gay man myself, I’ve experienced the prejudice that can come with seeking treatment firsthand. So when I began looking for LGBTQ+ affirming providers, I trusted Included Health to help me with my search.

My experience with Included Health began with filling out a care request form that inquired about my healthcare requests. And while this was only the first step in the care navigation process, it brought back a sense of hope I had lost when it came to my own search. The form not only asked what kind of trusted and reviewed LGBTQ+-affirming providers I was looking for but what my pronouns are and how I identify. I had never seen these kinds of questions on an intake form for a new provider. Having the opportunity to answer them made me realize I could, in fact, take control of my healthcare journey. 

Before I had reached out to Included Health, I’d spent countless hours scanning the internet for providers that were LGBTQ+-affirming and also within my insurance network. I made dozens of phone calls to healthcare offices across Manhattan and Brooklyn, only to be told that either the provider in question wasn’t accepting new patients or was booked until next year. This cycle of hope and then being asked if I wanted to place my name on a waitlist again and again was more than disheartening. In the past, I had settled for providers who didn’t understand my  identity and everything that comes with it. My requests for a PrEP prescription had been answered with judgmental responses like “PrEP is only for people who engage in promiscuous sex.” I didn’t want to give up on finding a provider who understands and cares about how I can protect my sexual health or why I might want to undergo a gender-affirming procedure as a cis person. It was hard to find providers that fit my criteria while working a full-time job and taking care of my family. I needed someone who understood my healthcare options as a queer person and would connect me with providers that could help me explore them. 

After I submitted my Included Health care request form, I received an email from Graham, my care coordinator, 48 hours later. Graham reassured me that he would do whatever it took to fulfill my requests, and he wasn’t lying when he wrote that message. Our conversation spanned over three months, 77 emails and one phone call. I was particular about what I wanted in my therapist, primary care physician, and surgeon, and Graham provided endless options—all of which took my insurance and were accepting new patients. When a provider didn’t seem like the right fit, Graham sent a chart of new providers for me to consider within hours, each one containing a brief description of the provider, my proximity to their practice, and a link to their website. I was gleefully overwhelmed with options.

My care coordinator has been more than just a person who will email a list of potential providers that are within my insurance network, though. After Graham had exhausted his resources for in-network therapists, he didn’t give up his search. Rather, he started looking into out-of-network providers that offered sliding scale payment options and were open to a single case agreement—meaning that if my insurance approved of the provider, they would treat them and all therapy sessions as an in-network provider. Graham’s explanations of all of these options gave me a better understanding of how I could use my insurance to benefit me.  

In the end, Graham found me the care that I couldn’t find on my own. I have a primary physician who is not just affirming but identifies within the LGBTQ+ community himself, which has made it easier for me, as a patient, to ask questions relating to my sexual health. My therapist, who also identifies as gay, provides insight into my life that previous, non-affirming mental health counselors couldn’t. And perhaps most exciting is that Graham has connected me with a local surgeon that performs thyroplasties—a relatively new gender-affirming procedure. 

(Read more on the Benefits of Affirming Therapy.)

Had I not reached out to Included Health and met Graham, I would have continued to spend too much  time and energy on a process that feels like a full-time job itself. When it came to my search, I was placing and fielding calls from doctors’ offices throughout my workday while submitting my personal and insurance information on my lunch breaks. It made it difficult to not only focus on my job but be the employee my superiors and colleagues needed me to be. For LGBTQ+ people like myself, the thought of lacking a provider you can trust and reach out to in a time of crisis can be all-consuming. Now, I live with a sense of relief knowing that I have a set of providers who will care for me. 

(Read more on Ways Employers Can Support LGBTQ+ Employees Beyond Pride Month)

More so, I’m grateful to know that Graham and the rest of the Included Health care team will be there if I ever need to find a new provider for any healthcare request I might have. Having a care coordinator is having an advocate on your side. While they’re looking out for you and your well-being, they also celebrate your healthcare wins (like when your insurance agrees to pay for your gender-affirming surgery). And if there’s ever a loss when it comes to your healthcare journey, they go right back to the drawing board until they have a solution that works for you. 

From Graham: “Working with Tim was wonderful! It’s always so rewarding to find our members the knowledgeable providers and the quality of care that they deserve. I feel it is so important to have a connection with any provider you see and it was so great to hear that Tim met with two mental health providers before deciding on who to continue to build a relationship with. I’m so happy I was able to help Tim find providers that are not only LGBTQ+ affirming but people that he can connect with.”  

At Included Health, we strive to provide friendly and exceptional healthcare navigation services to the LGBTQ+ community. Join our mailing list to receive more health and wellbeing updates from our care team. And please do not hesitate to contact us to #GetIncluded for your company, health plan, and community.

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