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Lawsuit over health coverage for transgender deputy could be costly for Houston

Recent events seem to have placed several Middle Georgia government entities right on the front lines of the war on gender identity discrimination. There are now two different lawsuits queuing up in the court system filed by local government employees who believe they were treated unfairly due to their desire to change genders.

In a recent column, I addressed a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Byron’s former fire chief, who claims that she was fired because of her decision to transition from male to female while serving as chief. And now a Houston County sheriff’s deputy has filed suit against the county government over its decision to exclude coverage for gender transition treatment from its health insurance plan.

This new lawsuit, filed by a deputy who worked for the department as a male for over a decade before coming out as a transgender female in 2017, is based on the premise that she suffers from a treatable medical condition known as gender dysphoria that the county has excluded from its health care plan for discriminatory reasons. The condition is now widely recognized by the medical community as a disorder that can be treated with sex reassignment therapy (including gender reassignment surgery, in some cases) and this treatment is becoming a more common part of many standard health insurance plans.

Similar lawsuits that have been filed against government entities that have chosen to exclude this coverage from their health plans have met with success in recent years. Transgender employees of the state government in Wisconsin and the Iowa Department of Corrections were victorious in similar gender discrimination suits decided recently. And just this year here in Georgia the state university system settled an insurance discrimination claim filed by a transgender employee with the court awarding the plaintiff $100,000 in damages.

As a citizen of Houston County whose taxes help pay the bills here, that last bit gives me pause. I can’t help but wonder how much the county’s decision to exclude gender transition treatment from its health care plan is going to cost us in the long run.

I don’t have any definitive data on what effect, if any, including coverage for gender reassignment treatment would have on the cost of health insurance for the county, but studies from other states that have added the coverage to their plans show their cost increases to have been minimal to nonexistent. I do know that fighting cases like this in court can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that’s before any damages are awarded if the county ends up losing the case.

Which leads us to a very obvious question – why did the Houston County Commission decide to exclude this coverage from their health care plan if adding it would have likely saved taxpayers money and trouble in the long run? So far it seems that County Commissioners have “declined to comment on the matter.”

That is simply unacceptable. As civic officials one of their responsibilities is to communicate the reasons for their decisions to those of us who pay their salaries and provide funds for things like county employee benefits and the legal fees they may incur with their decisions. For something this expensive and controversial a “no comment” is not going to cut it.

In the absence of an explanation I have to assume that their decision was based on their personal feelings about transgenderism and their reluctance to “encourage” a lifestyle that clashes with their beliefs and (they likely assume) the beliefs of most other Houston County residents. But it’s probably not something they wish to discuss publicly due to the controversial nature of the subject matter.

Tough. Controversial or not, we need to know what’s going on and why we are being dragged into a lawsuit we may very well lose. If you live in Houston County and you agree that we are owed an explanation, be sure and let the commission know how you feel.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.