The state of Georgia will begin paying for gender-inclusive health care for public employees who have state health insurance
JEFF AMY Associated Press
October 19, 2023, 3:56 p.m. ET
4 minutes read
The plaintiffs asked Thursday in federal court in Atlanta to dismiss their lawsuit and announced they had reached a settlement with the State Health Benefit Plan.
The December lawsuit argued that the insurer unlawfully discriminated by refusing to pay for gender-specific care.
“There is no moral, medical, legal or other justification for treating transgender health care differently and denying them access to it,” said David Brown, an attorney for the plaintiffs, in a telephone interview Thursday.
The state Department of Health, which oversees the insurance plan, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
The state will also pay a total of $365,000 to the plaintiffs and their attorneys as part of the settlement. Micha Rich, Benjamin Johnson and an anonymous state employee who sued on behalf of their adult child all said they spent money out of their own pockets that should have been covered by insurance.
As of July 1, Georgia legally barred new patients under 18 from starting hormone therapy and banned most gender-affirming surgeries for transgender people under 18. This law, which has been challenged in court but is still in effect, allows doctors to prescribe puberty-blocking drugs, allowing minors already receiving hormone therapy to continue.
But Brown said Thursday’s agreement requires health insurance companies to cover what is deemed medically necessary care for spouses and dependents, as well as employees. That means health insurance could be required to pay for out-of-state care for minors, even though it’s illegal in Georgia.
“The plan must not treat the care differently than other care that is not available in the state,” Brown said.
The lawsuit cited a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that said treating someone differently because of their transgender or homosexuality violates a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on sex. The plaintiffs in the case included an employee of Clayton County, Georgia.
Affected are two health insurance plans funded by the state but managed by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and UnitedHealthcare.
It is the fourth in a series of lawsuits against Georgia authorities seeking to force them to pay for gender confirmation surgeries and other procedures. State and local governments have lost or settled the previous lawsuits.
The University System of Georgia, in addition to changing its rules, paid $100,000 in damages in 2019 when it settled a case brought by a University of Georgia catering manager. And the Department of Health and Human Services agreed last year to change the state’s Medicaid program rules to resolve a lawsuit by two Medicaid recipients.
A jury last year ordered Houston County to pay $60,000 in damages to a sheriff’s deputy after a federal judge ruled that her superiors unlawfully denied the deputy health insurance for gender confirmation surgery. Houston County is appealing that ruling and oral argument is scheduled for November before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit settled Thursday included three transgender men. Micha Rich is an accountant with the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts and Benjamin Johnson is a media relations officer with the Bibb County School District in Macon. The mother of the third man, identified only as John Doe, is an employee of the Paulding County Department of Family and Children Services and covers the college student with her insurance.
All three were assigned female at birth but transitioned after therapy. All three appealed their denials of top breast reduction or removal surgery and received a finding from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Georgia discriminated against them.
“I am thrilled to know that none of my transgender colleagues will ever have to go through what I did,” Rich said in a statement.
A court ruling found that a similar ban was illegal in North Carolina; The state is appealing. A Wisconsin ban was lifted in 2018. West Virginia and Iowa have also lost workers’ insurance lawsuits, while Florida and Arizona are being sued.
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