College News

Former transgender employees sue UW System for denying insurance

One of the complainants is a former employee of the School of Medicine and Public Health, she was denied treatment for transgender procedure under her state insurance. 

Image By: Jon Yoon

Two former UW-Madison academic staff are suing the state for declining to cover necessary gender reassignment medical treatment under their state employee insurance coverage.

The complainants, who are both transgender, want the state to admit a violation of the laws protecting their civil liberty rights and to offer them insurance coverage and compensations.

They filed the lawsuit in federal court Friday against the Department of Employee Trust Funds, its Group Insurance Board, the University of Wisconsin System and other parties, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. The complaint is largely concerned with discrimination based on sex and violating the Civil Rights Act, the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the Affordable Care Act, according to the complaint.

Alina Boyden, an anthropology graduate student and teaching assistant, as well as Shannon Andrews, a UW Hospital Carbone Cancer Center associate researcher, are both transgender females who underwent gender reassignment not covered by their state employee insurance.

Wisconsin’s insurance coverage of transgender-related medical services has generated fierce debates since 2016. In June, the ETF drew upon Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act that “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs and activities,” and stopped excluding medical services for transgender individuals from the insurance coverage. That policy came into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

Nonetheless, a federal judge in Texas banned the Obamacare provision from extending to transgender medical services on Dec. 31, 2016. Consequently, the ETF began to reconsider canceling insurance coverage for transgender medical treatments, according to ETF Director of Communications, Mark Lamkins, and a statement from the agency.

In February, the state placed the insurance ban back on surgical services that it defined as “procedures, services, and supplies related to surgery and sex hormones associated with gender reassignment,” according to a Group Insurance Board memo.

The Wisconsin chapter of the ACLU filed the briefs on behalf of the two women and said the state should not play games with transgender employees’ essential medical needs.

“All that transgender people like Alina and Shannon are asking for is to be treated like everyone else, and that includes respect and coverage for the health care you need,” said John Knight, of the ACLU’s national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project.

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