Transgender Officer Looks to Employer Health Insurance for Gender-Affirming Surgery Coverage. Denial Leads to a Discrimination Suit

A Georgia officer's gender-affirming surgery is denied coverage by her employer's health insurance. The legal battle continues at the federal level in court.
By: | May 16, 2023

When sheriffs’ deputy Anna Lange decided it was time to pursue gender-affirming surgery, she looked to her employer’s health insurance plans to help cover some of the medical bills she was likely to incur. 

However, her employer, Georgia’s Houston County, denied coverage, citing the cost as the primary reason. 

Since 1998, the county’s health insurance plan has excluded coverage for “services and supplies for a sex change,” — an outdated term for gender transition surgeries. When the opportunity arose in 2016 to update its policy to align with new federal nondiscrimination rules, Houston County declined. 

Lange filed a discrimination lawsuit against the county.  

In its arguments, Houston County said that expanding its insurance coverage to include transition-related health care could amount to a steep fee over time. 

It also claimed expansion of the plan’s coverage would “spur demands for other, currently excluded benefits, such as abortion, weight loss surgery and eye surgery.” 

“They’re treating it like a political issue, obviously, when it’s a medical issue,” Lange told ProPublica. 

It’s important to note that major medical associations not only agree but have also dedicated research to understanding the effect gender-affirming care can have on transgender people. 

The American Medical Association has stated that “Empirical evidence has demonstrated that trans and non-binary gender identities are normal variations of human identity and expression … evidence has demonstrated that forgoing gender-affirming care can have tragic consequences. Transgender individuals are up to three times more likely than the general population to report or be diagnosed with mental health disorders, with as many as 41.5% reporting at least one diagnosis of a mental health or substance use disorder.” 

Research post Lange’s lawsuit has discovered that, in order to supply coverage through its health insurance offered to county employees, Houston County would have spent roughly $10,000 extra per year, on average.  

Since 2019, Sgt. Lange has fought for the benefits she believes are owed to her and others going through a similar situation. Houston County has spent nearly $1.2 million to fight the suit. 

Scorecard: The case is ongoing at the federal level. 

Takeaway: This case comes at a crux in U.S. history — more hurdles and laws are making it harder for the transgender community to exist. Employers aiming to create a safe and welcoming work environment — particularly those invested in DEI initiatives — should be working for all employees’ benefits, lest they want discrimination lawsuits on their hands. &

Autumn Demberger is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected].

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