Today, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), the Legal Aid Society, and Willkie, Farr & Gallagher LLP filed a federal class action lawsuit against the New York State Department of Health on behalf of two transgender women who have been denied access to medically necessary healthcare under a discriminatory Medicaid regulation, as first reported by the Associated Press. The regulation has been in place since 1998 and specifically denies coverage for treatments that have been prescribed to transgender people. However, these treatments can be covered by Medicaid when prescribed for reasons other than treatment of gender dysphoria.
"Denying New Yorkers equal access to the healthcare they need -- simply because of who they are -- isn't just discriminatory, it's dangerous," said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. "The New York I call home is one where everyone should be welcome and treated equally – period."
Last year, GLAAD and SRLP launched a campaign and released a series of educational PSA videos featuring transgender advocates, allies, and healthcare providers discussing popular misconceptions about transgender care, and how this population is being prevented from accessing adequate care just because they are transgender.
Medicaid is meant to ensure that qualifying low-income people without private health insurance coverage have access to necessary healthcare; however, transgender people are being denied treatments that are necessary for survival. While transgender people live in poverty at four times the national average, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a staggering 19% of transgender people report lacking any form of health insurance, including Medicaid. New York's Medicaid regulation adds to the barriers transgender people already face to accessing healthcare.
“This regulation aggravates discrimination against a community that is already struggling to survive,” said SRLP Staff Attorney Pooja Gehi. “When our clients cannot access healthcare they need, they have a harder time getting identity documents such as state ID, or getting jobs, housing, and basic social services. It contributes to the cycles that keep transgender people in poverty.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the federal Medicare program, reversed its exclusion of transgender health services. As a result, Medicare recipients may now request coverage for gender-affirming hormones and surgeries on a case-by-case basis. The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have issued statements affirming the safety, effectiveness, and medical necessity of transgender health treatments.