(Portland, January 17, 2013) - Lambda Legal today announced that the State of Oregon has changed an employee health care policy to remove all language that denies coverage to transgender people for transition-related health care. The change came in response to a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal and cooperating attorney Jennifer Middleton on behalf of Alec Esquivel. Alec was denied insurance coverage as a State employee for a medically necessary surgery because he is transgender.
"By removing the categorical exclusion that prevented Alec Esquivel from accessing critically necessary health care, the State of Oregon has replaced a discriminatory, harmful barrier with a commitment to treating employees equally," Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli said. "Alec was denied coverage simply because he is transgender. When the State refused to provide him with coverage for the same medical procedure that co-workers could access, Alec was compensated less based on his gender identity. Oregon has now corrected that inequity."
"The State of Oregon has now recognized that its transgender employees deserve the same access to health care that it provides all other employees," said Jennifer Middleton of co-counsel Johnson Johnson Larson & Schaller PC (JJLS Law) in Eugene. "The Oregon legislature outlawed discrimination because of gender identity in 2007. It is past time that the State, as an employer, made that promise of non-discrimination real through full and equal coverage for medically necessary health care, as the law requires."
When Lambda Legal and JJLS Law filed the lawsuit 18 months ago, Alec was clerking for the Oregon Court of Appeals. Designated female at birth, Alec was diagnosed with gender identity disorder in 2001 and began to take steps to align his body with his longstanding male gender identity. In 2010, Alec's doctor recommended that he undergo a hysterectomy as part of his treatment. Alec's doctor then submitted a request for insurance coverage. On June 21, 2010, coverage was denied based on the plan's categorical exclusion of transition-related health care. Lambda Legal and JJLS Law then filed a lawsuit against the State of Oregon and the Public Employees' Benefit Board arguing that Oregon's antidiscrimination law prohibits an employer from denying insurance coverage on the basis of gender identity.
Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is a serious medical condition recognized by the American Medical Association ("AMA"), the American Psychiatric Association, and the World Health Organization. Treatment varies by individual, but can involve a combination of hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery and psychotherapy. The AMA and other major medical associations have called for an end to discriminatory exclusions of medical care in health insurance policies for people with GID. Copies of those official statements can be found here
"This is a huge relief for me, and I appreciate that the state has clarified its health benefits policy to ensure others will not have to go through what I did to access the health care prescribed by their doctor," Esquivel said.
Transgender Rights Staff Attorney Dru Levasseur and Lambda Legal Staff Attorneys Tara Borelli and Stefan Johnson are representing Alec Esquivel, along with Jennifer Middleton of Johnson Johnson Larson & Schaller PC, based in Eugene, Oregon. More information about transition-related health care can be found here