Jun 7, 2023 - Politics

Benefits Board blocks gender-affirming coverage for city workers

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The Metro Employee Benefit Board on Tuesday voted against covering gender-affirming surgeries for Nashville city employees.

  • Mayor John Cooper had urged the board to support the procedures for transgender employees.

Driving the news: The board voted to deny adding the medical insurance coverage, which would have applied to employees and beneficiaries over the age of 18. They previously voted against covering gender-affirming care in 2021.

  • Opponents on the board Tuesday cited multiple problems with the proposal, occasionally echoing arguments against gender-affirming care that took place this year at the General Assembly.
  • Some mentioned religious arguments and doing their own research. They were unconvinced by Cooper's argument that the expansion would improve employee recruitment and retention.

State of play: The American Medical Association and other major health groups support gender-affirming care as medically necessary for transgender patients.

  • During a meeting last month, the board heard from transgender employees and an expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who spoke to the importance of offering such care, per the Tennessean.

What he's saying: "Working closely with the LGBTQ caucus, our Administration pushed hard to enact this live-saving change to our health care coverage," Cooper said in a statement after the vote.

  • "As a result [of this vote], our trans employees will have to wait at least another year for their rights to be affirmed by their peers on the Benefits Board."

Flashback: Cooper previously argued that covering the care would be a step toward establishing Nashville as a competitive employer and "a welcoming city" for a wide range of employees.

  • "Only then will Metro be able to attract and retain the diverse, creative and innovative talent it needs to succeed in the future and compete with our peer cities for top-tier talent," Cooper wrote in a May 16 letter to the board.
  • Cooper noted most of Nashville's top employers, as well as city governments in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Louisville, already offer employees "full gender-affirming health care."

Zoom out: Cooper's position stands in stark contrast with state leaders, who moved this year to restrict gender-affirming treatments.

  • State lawmakers passed a law banning all such treatments for Tennessee minors. (The U.S. Department of Justice is challenging that law.)

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