Trans woman sues Drexel for alleged insurance bias

Judge's gavel
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

A Philadelphia transgender woman has filed suit against Drexel University, claiming the university hasn’t provided her with proper health-insurance coverage. 

“Jane Doe” filed suit in federal court against Drexel on Sept. 13. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Karen S. Marston. A jury trial has been requested.

Drexel University is self-insured and its insurance plan is administered by Independence Blue Cross and QCC Insurance Company — entities that are also named as defendants in the case.

Doe is an employee of Drexel University, though her job title and duties aren’t specified in the 46-page lawsuit. She’s been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. However, Drexel won’t provide her coverage for facial-feminization procedures. Doe claims the procedures are medically necessary to treat her dysphoria, according to the lawsuit.

Moreover, Doe suffers from major depressive disorder, due to her gender dysphoria.

“Ms. Doe is substantially limited in the major life activities of interacting with others, social functioning, caring for herself, concentrating, thinking, and working,” according to the lawsuit.

To alleviate her gender dysphoria, Doe seeks coverage for a variety of medical procedures, including a brow lift; a lip lift; rhinoplasty; a tracheal shave; chin augmentation; forehead reduction and reconstruction; forehead contouring; scalp advancement; mandible bone excision and jaw contouring. 

She may also seek coverage for hair transplants in the future, according to the lawsuit.

To support her request for the coverage, Doe submitted recommendations from a surgeon, a primary care physician, a licensed social worker, TransFamily Support Services, and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. All of those individuals and entities recommended that Doe undergo the requested medical procedures to alleviate her gender dysphoria, according to the lawsuit.

“Drexel University discriminated against Ms. Doe by refusing to extend

insurance coverage to Ms. Doe for facial feminization surgeries and related

procedures as part of Drexel University’s self-funded employer-sponsored health plan, administered and underwritten by Independence Blue Cross and QCC Insurance Company,” the lawsuit states.

The three defendants allegedly violated federal, state and local laws when denying Doe coverage for the procedures, according to the lawsuit.

The defendants are liable for discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity and disability. Moreover, they wrongfully engaged in gender stereotyping, according to the lawsuit.

“By collecting premium amounts from Ms. Doe’s pay with Drexel University and committing benefits discrimination by refusing to pay her legitimate claim, the defendants have made a large profit at Ms. Doe’s expense,” the lawsuit alleges.

The defendants rejected coverage for the requested procedures on the basis that they’re cosmetic and not medically necessary, according to the lawsuit.

On Nov. 4, 2022, Doe was wrongfully denied the requested coverage due to a determination that she “does not objectively demonstrate facial features outside of the normal variation of an average adult female,’” the lawsuit claims.

Doe filed two administrative appeals earlier this year and personally contacted Drexel University about the situation, all to no avail, according to the lawsuit.

On March 27, 2023, Doe complained to a Drexel official about the situation, but her complaint wasn’t properly investigated, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that representatives of IBC and QCC repeatedly misgendered and deadnamed Doe during her quest for coverage, which “added insult to injury,” according to the lawsuit.

Doe’s anxiety, depression and gender dysphoria were exacerbated by the alleged mistreatment, and she considered suicide, according to the lawsuit.

QCC and IBC violated their own anti-bias policy, which protects individuals on the basis of gender, gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation, among other categories, according to the lawsuit.

Doe is seeking a judicial order that defendants cover feminine facial procedures in the future, along with a judicial order that defendants hold LGBTQ+ sensitivity training for their employees and a judicial order that Drexel properly investigate complaints of discrimination in the future.

Moreover, Doe is seeking other remedies, including: repayment of premiums that she paid to Drexel; compensatory and punitive damages; any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by Doe due to the alleged discrimination; and an award of reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

Independence Blue Cross issued the following statement: “We have not been served with this complaint and cannot comment on anticipated litigation. Our core mission is to enhance the health and well-being of the people and communities we serve. While we can’t comment on this case, what we would emphasize is that we serve all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Equitable care and protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification are written into our medical policies and required by law. Our policies for gender affirming care also take into consideration the standards published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). WPATH has recently published new recommendations and we are currently reviewing our medical policy in consideration of these recommendations.”

Attorneys for Doe had no comment for this story.