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Lawsuit against Iowa’s ban on Medicaid transgender healthcare tossed

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(Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection)

DES MOINES — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a law that exempts gender-confirmation surgeries from being covered by Iowa’s Medicaid program.

Courthouse News reported that Polk County District Judge David Porter dismissed the suit on Thursday, saying the issues were not ready for judicial review.

The new website reported that Mika Covington,  Aiden Vasquez and One Iowa argued in their May 31 complaint that the state’s ban on Medicaid coverage of sex-reassignment surgery violates their equal protection rights under the Iowa Constitution by “intentionally singling out transgender Iowans as a class for discrimination in public accommodations through the provision of publicly funded healthcare under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.”

From Courthouse News:

Covington and Vasquez had not yet sought or been denied Medicaid coverage, so they must first appeal the state’s Medicaid rules at the administrative level before challenging them in court, he wrote in a 13-page order.

The complaint named as defendants Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Human Services, or DHS. A spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The plaintiffs were represented by Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, and John Knight of the ACLU Foundation LGBT & HIV Project. The ACLU also did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

This challenge to the constitutionality of Iowa’s Medicaid rules pertaining to sex-change surgeries is the second to work its way through Iowa’s courts. In March, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the DHS regulation barring Medicaid coverage of sex-change operations violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act. But the court did not reach the constitutional question of equal-protection violations.

The Iowa General Assembly then amended the Civil Rights Act to say that the act “shall not require any state or local government unit or tax-supported district to provide for sex reassignment surgery or any other cosmetic, reconstructive, or plastic surgery procedure related to transsexualism, hermaphroditism, gender identity disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder.”

According to Courthouse News, Porter said the change did not prevent Medicaid from covering the surgeries if it chose too. So the plantiffs need to appeal to the state’s Department of Health Services first. 

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