Georgia settles lawsuit and agrees to pay for gender-affirming care for trans workers under the state's health plan

Georgia state employees and their families covered by the Georgia State Health Benefit Plan will be able to access transgender-related health care after the state agreed to a $365,000 legal settlement with three employees.

“When I got the medical treatment I needed, I finally felt whole. I feel like this is the person I was meant to be and my mental health has improved drastically. “I hope this settlement means that other transgender state employees in Georgia can feel the joy and relief I felt in receiving the medical treatment I needed,” said Benjamin Johnson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The health plan covers about 660,000 people, including public school employees and their families.

Johnson, who worked as a media clerk at an elementary school, filed the lawsuit in December along with Micah Rich, an accountant with the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts and an anonymous state employee whose young adult child was enrolled in the state plan.

Before the settlement, gender reassignment surgeries and related services were excluded from government coverage, even if recommended by a doctor as necessary treatment. Recommended treatments for gender dysphoria—a feeling of intense distress because of one's gender at birth—may include adopting a new name and clothing style, taking hormones, or having surgery.

Lawyers for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) and Bondurant Mixson & Ellmore LLP said the old plan would deny services such as mastectomies and hormone treatments for transgender patients, even though the same treatment would be approved for another purpose, which they said would come up Discrimination against transgender people is the same.

As part of the settlement, the state's health plans will include a provision defining health coverage for transgender people. Exclusions from transgender care will be repealed and the state will be prohibited from making similar exclusions, TLDEF said in a statement.

The $365,000 settlement will be divided among the three indicted state employees, the anonymous defendant's child and the Campaign for Southern Equality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing LGBTQ+ civil rights in the South.

“In a year where transphobic extremists have pushed one restriction after another on transgender people's access to necessary health care, a development like this that gives transgender Georgians easier access to health care is a major victory,” said Holiday Simmons, Director of Healing & Resilience for the Campaign for Equality in the South.

Last month, Georgia's ban on hormone treatments for transgender minors came back into effect after a brief interim injunction. A federal judge temporarily paused the program but reversed her own decision after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Georgia, ruled in favor of a similar bill in Alabama. That case, filed by families of transgender children, continues to move forward in court, with the families' lawyers also arguing that offering treatment for other conditions but not gender dysphoria constitutes discrimination.

“Our victory today is not precedent-setting because the court did not rule – we were able to negotiate the removal of the exclusion without much litigation – and the subject matter is slightly different as our case is about employment,” said TLDEF Legal Director David Brown. “But many of the same arguments apply. Both cases are primarily about the importance of trans people having access to the health care they need, and today's agreement emphasizes that there is no legal, medical, moral or any other justification for this “To discriminate against transgender people who simply seek the same health care that everyone deserves.”