Metro Weekly

Transgender sheriff’s deputy sues Georgia county over health insurance exclusion

Sgt. Anna Lange argues that denying coverage for transition-related health care is unconstitutional

Anna Lange – Photo: Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.

A transgender Georgia sheriff’s deputy for Houston County has filed a lawsuit against the county for an insurance exclusion that denies coverage for transgender-related health care from its employee health plan.

Sgt. Anna Lange, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, alleging that Houston County’s insurance exclusion not only discriminates against her on the basis of sex. She also argues that the policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and is unconstitutional because it violates her right to equal protection under law, as guaranteed by both the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution.

“I have devoted more than a decade of my life to a job that I love with the backing of supervisors and colleagues who truly respect my work,” Lange said in a statement. “Despite my dedicated years of service, the County has singled out and excluded the medically-necessary care that I need simply because I’m transgender. I just want to be treated fairly and earn the same benefits as my co-workers who serve on the force.”

Lange, who came out as transgender in 2017, has previously been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, for which the recommended treatment is social and medical gender transition, per the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. But under the county employee health care plan, treatments for gender dysphoria, including hormones and gender confirmation surgery, are prohibited from being covered. As a result, she’s had to pay out of pocket for some treatments and has been forced to forego other treatments due to the high price tag that surgical transition-related care carries.

Lange has repeatedly asked the county to reconsider the exclusion, even testifying before the Houston County Board of Commissioners, but all of her requests have been rejected. 

“Excluding transgender-related care from employee health plans violates Georgia and federal law,” Noah Lewis, a senior staff attorney for Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing Lange, said in a statement. “When we inform private employers that it is unlawful to block transition-related care, most voluntarily remove the exclusion. The Houston County Board of Commissioners had the opportunity to treat all of its employees equally and vote to end this unfair treatment of county employees and their families. They failed to do so. Sergeant Lange had no other choice than to bring this federal case.”

The crux of Lange’s lawsuit alleging unlawful discrimination rests on the fact that the health plan will provide coverage for some of the exact same treatments and procedures that Lange is seeking to undergo, but only if the person is not pursuing them as part of a gender transition. Therefore, Lange’s lawyers argue, if the doctor-recommended procedures would otherwise be provided but for Lange’s assigned sex at birth, the county is effectively endorsing discrimination based on her sex and her gender identity.

Transition-related care is recognized as medically necessary by most insurance companies, and is covered by both the federal employee health benefits plan and Medicare, as well as health plans adopted by a significant number of private employers. The University System of Georgia previously faced a similar lawsuit brought by a university employee, and eventually settled the case by agreeing to remove the exclusion and pay the employee, who had been forced to pay for his gender confirmation surgery out of pocket, $100,000.

Houston County, Ga., sheriff’s car – Photo: Michael Rivera, via Wikimedia.

Other pro-LGBTQ groups have already come out in support of Lange’s lawsuit.

“Sergeant Anna Lange is an outstanding member of the community who has continuously put her life on the line for 13 years of committed service. Despite this dedication, Houston County has chosen to discriminate against her by denying the medically-necessary transition-related care she needs,” Zahara Green, the executive director of TRANScending Barriers Atlanta, said in a statement.

“Health care is a human right for everyone, including transgender people. The people of Houston County expect their elected officials to provide respect, dignity, and fairness to all those who ensure their safety every day,” Green added. “The time is now for Houston County to provide sergeant Lange with equal access to health care.”

“All people deserve the right to health care, including transgender people. Transgender-related surgeries and other procedures are a vital part of the journey to health and well being for many trans individuals,” Chanel Haley, the gender policy manager at Georgia Equality, added. “Insisting on medically necessary care is not an unreasonable expectation. By refusing to cover this care, the Houston County Commissioners are trampling trans rights and ignoring one of their own.”

Kayla Gore, a Southern regional organizer for Transgender Law Center at Southerners on New Ground, accused the county of showing “complete disregard” for Lange’s health.

“Rejecting an employee’s medical needs is negligent and reckless,” Gore said in a statement. “Through this shameful action, Houston County has failed one of its most respected leaders. We commend Sergeant Lange for  speaking out against this injustice and pushing for positive change.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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