ACLU challenges Medicaid coverage exclusions for transgender Iowans

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has filed a second lawsuit charging that state government violates the civil rights of transgender Iowans. Plaintiff EerieAnna Good is a Medicaid recipient who has been denied coverage for transition-related surgical care, because Iowa Department of Human Services administrative rules exclude Medicaid coverage for surgery related to “Sex reassignment.”

Professional associations representing doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers support transition-related care as medically necessary, and more than a dozen states prohibit transgender exclusions in private health insurance or Medicaid.

In a news release enclosed in full below, ACLU of Iowa legal director Rita Bettis noted that “Iowans who are not transgender routinely receive coverage for a medically necessary mastectomy—but a transgender Iowan would be banned from coverage for the same care to treat gender dysphoria regardless of medical need. That’s a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.” (Since 2007, the Iowa Civil Rights Act has prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity.)

A second transgender Iowan, Carol Ann Beal, will likely join this lawsuit after the Iowa DHS finishes processing her appeal of Medicaid’s denial of coverage, the ACLU said.

Last month, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of a former Iowa prison nurse, who “was continuously denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, because he is transgender,” and also denied “the same level of health care benefit coverage” the state plan provided to employees who are not transgender.

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Former Iowa prison nurse files landmark transgender rights lawsuit

A former prison nurse has filed Iowa’s first transgender rights case since state lawmakers and the governor added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa announced today.

Jesse Vroegh is suing the Iowa Department of Corrections, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, the insurance company Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Iowa, and State Penitentiary Warden Patti Wachtendorf on four counts of discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex. The plaintiff charges that while employed at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, he “was continuously denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, because he is transgender.”

In addition, the Department of Corrections “denied transgender employees the same level of health care benefit coverage that it provided to non-transgender employees,” while the Department of Administrative Services “was involved in the decision to select and offer to employees of the Iowa Department of Corrections only employer-sponsored health care plans which discriminated against transgender employees.”

Vroegh claims the state’s actions violated the Civil Rights Act and provisions in the Iowa Constitution that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and require equal protection for historically disfavored groups. I enclose below the plaintiff’s initial court filing and a press release providing more background on the case.

Although he no longer works for the Department of Corrections, Vroegh said in a statement he is proceeding with the lawsuit “because I feel I need to fight for the rights not only of transgender people who work for the state but for other Iowa workers as well. I’m not asking for any special treatment of myself or any other transgender person. All I’m asking for is that transgender people be treated the same way as people who are not transgender.”

The ACLU of Iowa noted, “The first transgender employment discrimination case, Sommers v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, was decided in 1983. But today’s action is the first case we’re aware of to be filed in Iowa District Court that asserts gender identity discrimination in employment since the Iowa Civil Rights Act was amended in 2007 to include gender identity and sexual orientation.” A few state House and Senate Republicans joined almost all of the Democratic lawmakers to approve the new civil rights language during the first year Democrats had controlled both chambers of the legislature in more than a decade. Governor Chet Culver signed the bill into law.

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IA-Gov: Read the messages Fred Hubbell is testing with Iowa Democrats

Are Iowa Democrats more likely to support a successful businessman who is not a politician? Are they sympathetic to the argument that a self-funding candidate for governor is less susceptible to influence by special interests? Are they more impressed by private- or public-sector jobs Fred Hubbell has held, or by his charitable giving to causes like Planned Parenthood?

A recent survey of Democratic voters appears to be the Hubbell campaign’s first attempt to answer those and other questions.

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Observations of John Norris' campaign kickoff

First-person accounts of political events are welcome at Bleeding Heartland. The Norris campaign is online here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Last weekend I was able to attend John Norris’ gubernatorial campaign kickoff at Living History Farms in Urbandale. As someone who is relatively new to Iowa politics, I was pleasantly surprised to see about 200 people out for this campaign potluck event.

As a lifelong Democrat, Norris certainly impressed me with his campaign speech, and spoke about many issues that I, and many other Democrats, are passionate about.

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Reynolds staff won't provide Branstad administration records to Democratic lawmaker

Governor Kim Reynolds has said many times that she was a “full partner” in former Governor Terry Branstad’s administration. Other well-placed Iowa Republicans likewise have attested to Reynolds’ role as a “full partner” or “active partner” in running state government during nearly six and a half years as lieutenant governor.

But when Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart recently requested communications with the governor’s office pertaining to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, staff for Reynolds informed him that “our office cannot reach back and review and release records from the previous administration.”

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Jerry Foxhoven charged with fixing the mess at Iowa DHS

The rumors were true: Drake University Law Professor Jerry Foxhoven will be the new Iowa Department of Human Services director, effective tomorrow.

The May 31 press release announcing Chuck Palmer’s retirement linked to a job listing for the DHS director position, to close on June 11. I would be surprised if Governor Kim Reynolds interviewed or seriously considered anyone else for this job, given the rapid turnaround. I never heard a rumor about any candidate other than Foxhoven.

I enclose below the full text of today’s announcement, including background on the new director. Foxhoven has a lot of relevant experience for the job, and I wish him the best of luck as he attempts to lead a department where big mid-year spending cuts will give way to even lower funding levels for the next fiscal year. Morale is reportedly poor among DHS workers, in part because of too-large caseloads. Medicaid privatization has proved disastrous for many vulnerable Iowans and service providers.

Speaking of which, Disability Rights Iowa filed suit yesterday against Reynolds and former DHS Director Palmer, seeking “to halt discriminatory cuts in services to 15,000 Iowans with serious disabilities,” Tony Leys and Jason Clayworth reported for the Des Moines Register. Roxanne Conlin is helping the plaintiffs, who will seek certification for a class action.

UPDATE: Lee Rood and Tony Leys interviewed Foxhoven for the Des Moines Register. I posted excerpts below, but you should click through to read the whole thing.

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