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Librarian sues Alaska over denied medical coverage for gender reassignment surgery

A transgender woman has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the state of Alaska, saying she was denied medical coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

Jennifer Fletcher, a state legislative librarian, said Tuesday she decided to sue after the state refused to consider changing its health care plan. She said she took a second job at a Juneau hostel in order to pay the thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for the procedure.

The procedure is medically necessary and even lifesaving for a person who has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, defined as "clinically significant distress that can result from dissonance between one's gender identity and sex assigned at birth," according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

The suit says Fletcher was denied the coverage specifically because she is transgender, a violation of federal laws against sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act.

Alaska is one of a few states that still excludes gender transition-related care from its health care plan, said Peter Renn, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, a national firm representing Fletcher. He said Medicare eliminated a ban on transition-related care in 2014.

A report to the state director of retirement and benefits, obtained by Fletcher's attorneys, found that covering gender-related transition care would cost a total of $15,000 annually for active employees and $45,000 for retirees. The estimate was based on the roughly 400 adults in the U.S. each year who undergo gender reassignment surgery.

Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general in the Alaska Department of Law, said the state had not yet been served with the complaint.

She said the state would review the complaint and write a response.

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