News (USA)

A county spent $1.2 million in legal fees to avoid paying $10K for trans-inclusive health care

Sgt. Anna Lange
Sgt. Anna Lange Photo: Screenshot/Houston County 911

A county in Georgia spent nearly $1.2 million in a years-long legal battle to deny a local sheriff’s deputy a healthcare plan that would cover gender-affirming care, citing the cost of the plan. But by one estimate, the change to the county’s health insurance would have cost a fraction of what it paid a private law firm.

According to a ProPublica report, an expert hired by Sgt. Anna Lange’s attorneys said that a healthcare plan that included transition-related care would have only cost Houston County about $10,000 per year, adding about 0.1% to the cost of all claims. Instead, the county spent nearly three times its annual physical and mental health budget to fight Lange in federal court.

“It was a slap in the face, really, to find out how much they had spent,” Lange said. “They’re treating it like a political issue, obviously, when it’s a medical issue.”

According to ProPublica, Houston County’s healthcare plan has excluded coverage for gender-affirming care since at least 1998. County officials ignored the county’s insurance administrator’s 2016 recommendation that it change the policy to align with a new federal nondiscrimination rule.

Lange, who had worked for the Houston County Sheriff’s office for more than a decade, came out as transgender in 2017. After learning that the county’s health plan would not cover gender-affirming surgeries, she sent letters to the insurance administrator and the county in 2018 and 2019 requesting the removal of the exclusions but was denied. In February 2019, she went before the county board of commissioners to request that the exclusions be removed and was again denied.

Later that year, she filed a lawsuit against the county for employment discrimination.

Lawyers for the county cited soaring health insurance premiums and argued that eliminating the exclusion on gender-affirming care would lead to requests to remove other exclusions. The county also spent $57,135 on a budget expert to argue that the exclusion was “reasonable and consistent with general industry practices.”

An expert hired by Lange’s attorneys argued that the cost of including gender-affirming care in the county’s health plan would be “an amount so low that it would be considered immaterial.”

Lange won her case in 2022, after Houston County spent $1,188,701 in legal fees to private law firms.

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