The Yuba Community College District now includes transgender services in its health benefits after an employee notified the American Civil Liberties Union about what he called a discriminatory practice.
Brian Condrey, an English professor at Yuba College, sought out transition-related care for his transgender daughter two years ago. He received a notice stating his employee health plan does not cover care related to gender transitions, such as hormone therapy, surgery and psychological counseling. Condrey says he’s been asking district administration and the insurance agency to remove the exclusion since then.
Condrey recently contacted the ACLU about the issue, and the legal nonprofit sent a letter of demand to the Yuba Community College District and the Tri-County Schools Insurance Group, the joint powers authority that provides health insurance to the district’s employees and their dependents.
“In the hope of avoiding unnecessary litigation, the ACLU is urging the district and its insurer to remove the unlawful exclusion for gender-affirming care and compensate employees who have been harmed by it,” the letter read.
In a vote this morning, the Tri-County board voted to begin covering services related to gender identity and expression, effective Nov. 1, 2019. The agency has had this issue on its October calendar since June, according to the ACLU.
Condrey said it’s been frustrating to fight for medical services that his now-19-year-old daughter needs to thrive. It’s also been a financial burden, as he’s been paying for her transition-related care out-of-pocket.
He says he’s not fully satisfied, even though the insurance exclusion has been removed, because he’s still sitting on thousands of dollars of medical expenses from the past two years that his daughter’s care was not covered.
“I really don’t know what our next steps will be…” he said in a text shortly after the vote. “We have some decisions to make.”
Many transgender people suffer from gender dysphoria, or severe distress over a mismatch between gender identity and assigned sex. It may increase risk for suicidal thoughts, which occur at higher rates among transgender youth than their peers.
Condrey said discriminatory policies exacerbate those issues.
“It’s this sense of always having to apologize for who you are, or that feeling of making to be felt like you’re some kind of inconvenience,” he said. “And as a parent, that’s just really painful to have to deal with.”
As it stands, plans regulated by California’s Department of Insurance and Department of Managed Health Care can’t legally put a blanket exclusion on care related to gender identity or gender expression. Similar rules were established under the Affordable Care Act.
The Tri-County Schools Insurance Group is self-insured, which makes it exempt from those laws according to the Transgender Law Center, a national organization providing legal expertise on LGBTQ issues.
But in its letter, the ACLU argued that the Yuba Community College District is bound to nondiscrimination laws for public employers under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
“Any law that applies to YCCD as a public education agency also applies to [Tri-County Schools Insurance Group],” the letter read.
The Tri-County Schools Insurance Group declined to comment for this story.
Doug Houston, chancellor of the district, said before the vote that he’s been working with the board to change the policy since he heard about the issue.
“We have a duty as a public employer, and we have a moral obligation,” he said. “I’m very thankful that our employees brought this to our attention so we can address it.”
Experts say health coverage for transgender employees and students in California varies from campus to campus. It’s generally covered at University of California schools.
Student access to transgender care typically depends on what’s offered at campus health centers. Some CSU students have voiced frustration that they can’t access hormone replacement therapy on campus.
Condrey hopes the vote will broaden people’s understanding of transgender issues, especially in rural areas.
“I know that discrimination like this, against transgender people, it happens across the country,” he said. “But it’s more likely that cases like this stand unchallenged in rural areas, where honestly the costs of coming out — the social cost and other costs — are much higher where people don’t have the experience and the exposure to transgender people, where transphobia is normalized, where people maybe don’t know better.”
The Tri-County Schools Insurance Group also provides insurance to Woodland Community College, Lake Tahoe Community College and Feather River College.
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