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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit On Medicaid Funding for Transgender-Related Surgeries

Natalie Krebs/IPR file photo
Ankeny resident Mika Covington is one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit filed by the ACLU. Covington's scheduled surgery has been disrupted by a provision passed by the legislature in April.

A Polk County judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a law that would allow organizations using public insurance dollars – like Medicaid – to opt out of covering gender-affirming surgery.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of Mika Covington and Aiden Vasquez, two transgender plaintiffs on Medicaid who are seeking the procedure. It asks for the law to be ruled unconstitutional under the state's Civil Rights Act.

The legislature passed the provision as part of the health budget bill in April and it was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds in May.

It came just weeks after a state Supreme Court decision struck down a decades-old ban on using Medicaid dollars for transition-related surgery. 

Polk County Judge David Porter wrote in his ruling released this week that the injunction sought by the ACLU is not "ripe for judicial consideration" because Covington and Vasquez have not yet exhausted the administrative appeals process through the Department of Human Services, which oversees Medicaid.

At a hearing last week, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Odgen told the judge the language of the law does not actually ban funding.

"The challenged provision does not bar the petitioners from seeking these surgical, gender affirming surgeries through Medicaid," Odgen said, "and perhaps most importantly, it does not prohibit DHS from providing those services through the Medicaid program." 

But it does allow the government insurance program to refuse to provide the surgery. 

In response, the ACLU has filed an emergency appeal on the ruling.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter