ACLU sues PeaceHealth, says it didn't cover transgender care

SEATTLE -- A former worker for a Catholic health care system in the Northwest sued the organization Thursday, saying its insurance plan refused to cover gender-reassignment surgery for her teenage son.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed the discrimination lawsuit against PeaceHealth in federal court on behalf of Cheryl Enstad of Bellingham and her son Paxton Enstad.

The lawsuit cites violations of the federal Affordable Care Act as well as Washington state anti-discrimination law.

PeaceHealth, which is based in Vancouver, Washington, and operates 10 medical centers in Oregon, Washington and Alaska, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Cheryl Enstad said in the lawsuit that she was a medical social worker at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham from 1996 until last April.

She was stunned to learn PeaceHealth wouldn't cover Paxton's chest reconstruction surgery, which his doctors had determined was medically necessary to treat his gender dysphoria and its effects, including severe depression, she said.

Enstad said she paid more than $10,000 herself by taking out loans and dipping into her son's college account.

Paxton began suffering from depression, anxiety and lack of sleep when he started going through puberty at age 11. He wore a chest binder almost around the clock to flatten his chest, even though it can restrict breathing and cause long-term medical problems, the lawsuit says.

"Since undergoing chest reconstruction surgery, Pax walks with his head up and his shoulders back; he can go outside without anxiety; and he has begun swimming again for the first time in years," the lawsuit said.