The decision is expected to cost a total of $200,000 a year because just "eight to 10" people annually are expected to pass the "very rigorous" psychological evaluation required before sex reassignment surgery, Health Minister George Smitherman said yesterday.
"It's a very serious medical condition that affects a very small number of people," he told reporters, noting that other provinces including Alberta pay for the surgery.
Smitherman acknowledged the coverage could be controversial in some circles, given the heavy demands on Ontario's health-care system from people with rare, life-threatening diseases, for example.
"I think that people should be careful not to use what is $200,000 on a $40.2 billion health budget as an excuse to try a bit of a `them and us' conversation," he said.
It was 10 years ago that the previous Progressive Conservative government declared the operations were no longer eligible under the taxpayer-funded Ontario Health Insurance Plan, which had covered the surgery since 1971.
That prompted complaints to the Ontario Human Rights Commission from transsexuals whose progression through the psychological evaluation to gender reassignment surgery was interrupted.
Two years ago, the commission ordered the government to compensate three patients who had begun the sex-change process.
Smitherman's announcement was welcomed by the transsexual community, but one group is hoping the criteria for gender reassignment surgery will be made "less rigorous" than the 1970s standards used before taxpayer funding for the operation was axed.
"A more sensitive model would be appropriate," said Susan Gapka of the Rainbow Health Network.
Gapka said it's hard to say how many people are awaiting the surgery.
"It's a hidden population ... there's a large community in Ontario and in Toronto and southern Ontario."
While details of the policy are still being worked out, Smitherman said patients will likely be sent to a clinic in Montreal that specializes in the surgery, which costs about $20,000.
The Liberals had promised to reinstate the coverage of sex change operations.
More details will be announced in a few weeks, Smitherman said.