The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa filed a lawsuit Friday, calling for a temporary injunction to block the implementation of a law allowing for the denial of Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery for transgender individuals.
During the most recent legislative session lawmakers passed legislation that Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law, amending the 2007 Iowa Civil Rights Act’s protections against discrimination for transgender individuals. The law created a new exception allowing Medicaid to deny coverage to transgender Iowans for gender-affirming surgery.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of One Iowa, an organization which seeks to improve life for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Ally community in Iowa, and on behalf of Mika Covington and Aiden Vasquez. Covington and Vazquez are both transgender and qualify for Medicaid coverage.
Iowa Executive Director Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel said many LGBTQA+ individuals and transgender individuals in particular have difficulties receiving healthcare that are not experienced by cisgender, heterosexual individuals.
“A patient’s health should always come first,” Hoffman-Zinnel said. “Denying transgender people the medically-necessary health care they need, as directed by their doctor, can contribute to depression, anxiety and increased risk of suicidal thoughts.”
The ACLU of Iowa legal director, Rita Bettis Austen, said the law returns Iowa to its past position of discriminating against transgender individuals.
“This law reverts [Iowa] back to its long-standing discriminatory policy and practice of denying transgender Iowans on Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery,” Bettis Austen said. “The law brings significant harm to our clients and others who rely on Medicaid and who desperately need this surgery.”
The two other plaintiffs in the case spoke about the pain of living in bodies they feel are not their own.
Vasquez said he has spent his whole life living in a body that wasn’t his, feeling “fake and hopeless.”
“Tragically, society shames transgender individuals just for being who they are,” Vasquez said.
Covington briefly spoke about the importance of gender-affirming surgery to her and other transgender individuals.
“All Iowans, regardless of their income level, have the right to have medically-necessary health care without discrimination because of who they are...Gender-affirming surgery is literally saving lives,” Covington said.
Iowa is among 28 other states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico in prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in both private and public employment.