A Dignity Health nurse has become one of the first transgender people to file a lawsuit against his employer for refusing to cover gender transition-related care following recent HHS rules banning discrimination against transgender people.
Joe Robinson, an operating room nurse at Chandler Regional Medical Center in Chandler, Ariz., alleges that Dignity's lack of insurance coverage for medically necessary transition-related care violates the Civil Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act.
The lawsuit comes shortly after HHS issued a final rule last month prohibiting the denial of healthcare or health coverage based on sex, including gender identity.
“The regulations just crystallize what already should have been an obvious case of sex discrimination,” said Josh Block, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberty Union's LGBT Project, who is representing Robinson. “These sorts of categorical bans have no basis in medicine.”
Dignity Health said in a statement Tuesday that it's conducting its own internal investigation and does not comment on pending litigation.
“Dignity Health is committed to a work environment free from discrimination and respects the human dignity of everyone,” according to the statement. “We are aware of the complaint and take this matter very seriously.”
Not-for-profit Dignity is one of the largest hospital systems in the country with 39 hospitals in 21 states. It had operating revenue of $10.7 billion in 2014.
Robinson, who was born a woman and now identifies as a man, alleges in the lawsuit that Dignity's health plan treats transgender employees unequally by depriving them of care for gender dysphoria. He's had to pay thousands of dollars out of his own pocket for care as a result, according to the complaint filed Monday.
Widely accepted standards of care for treating gender dysphoria, published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, say that medically necessary treatment might include hormone therapy, surgery and other medical services that help individuals' bodies match their gender identities, according to the complaint.
Block said it's possible more transgender people will file lawsuits over a lack of coverage for transition-related care. But he said he expects more companies will cover such care, negating the need for additional lawsuits.
“I would be surprised if a couple of years from now you still saw these sorts of policies,” Block said.
The CMS decided last week that there's not enough evidence to support Medicare payments for sex change operations on a national basis though local Medicare administrative contractors will continue to determine coverage on an individual claim basis. Also, last week, the Veterans Affairs Department proposed removing its prohibition on medical services considered to be gender alterations.