When a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia’s Houston County sought surgery as part of her gender transition, local officials refused to change the department’s health insurance plan to cover it, citing cost as the primary reason.
In the years that followed, the central Georgia county paid a private law firm nearly $1.2 million to fight Sgt. Anna Lange in federal court — far more than it would have cost the county to offer such coverage to all of its 1,500 health plan members, according to expert analyses. One expert estimated that including transition-related care in the health plan would add about 0.1% to the cost of all claims, which would come to roughly $10,000 per year, on average.
Since at least 1998, the county’s plan has excluded coverage for “services and supplies for a sex change,” an outdated term to refer to surgeries or medications related to gender transition. In 2016, the county’s insurance administrator recommended changing the policy to align with a new federal nondiscrimination rule. But Houston County leaders said no.
The county argued that even if the cost of expanding its insurance coverage to include transition-related health care was low on average, it could amount to much more in some years. The county also claimed that expanding the plan’s coverage would spur demands to pay for other, currently excluded benefits, such as abortion, weight loss surgery and eye surgery.
“It was a slap in the face, really, to find out how much they had spent,” said Lange, who filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the county. “They’re treating it like a political issue, obviously, when it’s a medical issue.”
Major medical associations recognize that access to transition-related care, also known as gender-affirming care, is medically necessary for transgender people, citing evidence that prohibiting it can harm their mental and physical health. And federal judges have consistently ruled that employers cannot categorically exclude gender-affirming care from health care plans, though prior to Lange’s suit, there hadn’t been a ruling covering Georgia. The care can include long-term hormone therapy, chest and genital surgery, and other services that help transgender people align their bodies with their gender identities.
But banning gender-affirming care has become a touchstone of conservative politics. At least 25…
Read More: Her Employer Spent $1M Fighting Insurance Coverage for Her Gender-Affirming Care