US: Washington state family sues medical center for refusing services to transgender son

Cheryl Enstad spent 20 years as a medical social worker at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham. When PeaceHealth refused to cover transgender medical services for her son Pax, Enstad said she felt “betrayed.”

“They were telling me my son was undeserving of care,” she said at a Thursday news conference announcing a lawsuit against PeaceHealth by the ACLU of Washington on her family’s behalf.

The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, appears to be the first of its kind in Washington state, said ACLU staff attorney Lisa Nowlin.

The ACLU contends that PeaceHealth’s blanket policy of refusing to pay for transgender medical services discriminates on the basis of sex and gender identity, violating the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which prohibits such discrimination. The lawsuit also claims PeaceHealth violated the state law against discrimination.

PeaceHealth, a Catholic organization, operates 70 facilities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska with 16,000 employees, according to the lawsuit.

Cheryl Enstad and her husband, Mark, took a second mortgage on their Bellingham home and used some of Pax’s college savings fund to pay more than $10,000 for the chest-reconstruction surgery prescribed for Pax by his doctor.

“We feel privileged to even have the option of taking out a second mortgage,” Cheryl Enstad said, noting that some families in similar situations aren’t so fortunate. 

When they submitted a preauthorization request for surgery, PeaceHealth, which provides coverage for employees such as Cheryl Enstad, stated it does not cover any “transgender services” in its health-benefits plan.

That’s illegal discrimination, said Nowlin, the ACLU attorney. “Under state and federal law, no company is allowed to single out and exclude one group of individuals from medical care that is prescribed for them by their doctors and that the company routinely provides for others,” she said. Read more via Seattle Times