NWLC Files Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit Against Aetna Alleging Fertility Policies Discriminate Against LGBTQ People
San Jose, CA- On April 17, 2023, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), alongside law firms Liu Peterson-Fisher LLP and Altshuler Berzon, LLP filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Aetna alleging that their coverage policies discriminate nationwide against LGBTQ people seeking to get pregnant using fertility treatments. The plaintiff in this case, Mara Berton, was required by Aetna’s policy to incur significant out-of-pocket expenses and delay building her family while heterosexual couples are provided immediate access to coverage for the same fertility treatments.
The lawsuit alleges that Aetna’s policy, which requires LGBTQ people seeking fertility treatments in order to become pregnant to pay more and wait longer to access the fertility benefits covered by their health plans, violates Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I am being denied coverage because I am in a same-sex relationship,” said plaintiff Mara Berton. “My treatments are considered ‘not medically necessary,’ as if I could become pregnant by simply choosing to have heterosexual intercourse outside of my relationship, as if being gay were a choice. Fertility treatments are just as necessary for me to have a child with my partner as they are for cisgender heterosexual couples who aren’t able to get pregnant without medical assistance. We shouldn’t have to prove that obvious fact by spending thousands of dollars out of pocket. It’s a just reminder that LGBTQIA+ people and our relationships are still treated as second-class in many ways.”
“Aetna’s discriminatory policy creates an additional hurdle for queer couples to expand their families,” said June Higginbotham, Mara’s wife. “The decision to become parents should not be hindered by Aetna’s discriminatory policy and the ensuing financial burden that it creates. Queer people deserve equitable access to reproductive healthcare.”
NWLC previously filed a class action lawsuit against Aetna on behalf of LGBTQ individuals in New York. This new lawsuit now seeks damages on behalf of LGBTQ Californians harmed by Aetna’s discriminatory fertility policy, as well as nationwide injunctive relief to end Aetna’s discriminatory policy once and for all.
“Aetna is deliberately discriminating against people in queer relationships from New York to California and refusing to change their ways. It is a shame we are forced to file yet another lawsuit against them, but we are proud to fight for our clients who deserve care, no matter who they love and choose to build a family with,” said Alison Tanner, Senior Litigation Counsel for Reproductive Rights and Health Litigation at NWLC. “Thousands of people across the country are having their plans to build their families delayed or potentially completely derailed by these burdensome policies, with particularly egregious harms imposed on queer people of color, and insurance companies must make these policies a thing of the past.”
“Aetna knows perfectly well that its policies force LGBTQ people to pay thousands of dollars before their fertility procedures are covered, and it has deliberately chosen to line corporate pockets at our community’s expense,” said Rebecca Peterson-Fisher, co-lead counsel from Liu Peterson-Fisher LLP.
“Aetna has a made a deliberate choice to deny its LGBTQ members equal access to fertility treatments that Aetna makes readily available to those in heterosexual relationships,” said Connie Chan, co-lead counsel from Altshuler Berzon, LLP. “Aetna’s discriminatory policy causes profound harm to LGBTQ people and is in direct violation of federal law.”
Individuals whose health plans unfairly discriminate against LGBTQ couples seeking fertility treatments can provide the attorneys with more information in two ways: by email [email protected] or by filling out this google form: https://bit.ly/LGBTQFertilityLawsuit.
Original Complaint Filed April 2023