Republican lawmakers seek to strip CHIP-insured kids of trans-related coverage

Republican lawmakers seek to strip CHIP-insured kids of trans-related coverage

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A state Senate committee this week approved a bill that would ban state funding of transgender medical services for children enrolled in the state's Children's Health Insurance Program.

The Oct. 18 vote in the state Senate banking and insurance committee was 10-5, with all 10 Republicans on the committee supporting the proposed measure.

H.B. 1388's main purpose is to continue funding for the state's CHIP through December 2019. Without passage of the bill, funding could expire in December 2017.

The bill didn't contain anti-trans language until an amendment was introduced by state Sen. Donald C. White (R) at the Oct. 18 committee meeting and approved by his Republican colleagues.

White's amendment excludes payments for trans-related medical services including gender-confirmation surgery, counseling, hormone therapies and physician and hospital services.

Democrat lawmakers said they'll seek to amend the bill as it winds its way through the legislative process, to reduce its anti-trans impact.

H.B. 1388 still must be approved by another state Senate committee, then the full state Senate, then a state House committee, then a majority of state House members before it would reach Gov. Tom Wolf's desk for his signature.

In June, the state House unanimously approved H.B. 1388 without any anti-trans language.

CHIP provides health insurance for children 18 and under whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid insurance but cannot afford private insurance.

Nationwide, CHIP serves about 9-million children. About 177,000 children are served in Pennsylvania.

An estimated 800 children in Pennsylvania are receiving trans-related medical services but it's not clear how many of them are enrolled in CHIP.

State Sen. Sharif Street (D) plans to introduce an amendment to H.B. 1388 after it reaches the state Senate Appropriations Committee. The amendment would restore payments for all non-surgical trans services including counseling and hormone therapies.

"I've already spoken to some moderate Republicans who would support such an amendment," Street told PGN.

"We're trying to come up with a compromise that will not create any harm for the trans community and allow us to be able to reauthorize CHIP," Street added. "Current protocols don't call for gender-confirmation surgery for children."

Street vowed to oppose any measure that would ban state Medicaid coverage for gender-confirmation surgery for adults.

"We would never throw our trans brothers and sisters under the bus," he added. "They're an important constituency just like every other constituency."

Trans advocate Julie Chovanes blasted White's amendment.

“Sen. White’s amendment amounts to illegal discrimination," Chovanes told PGN. "He apparently doesn't understand trans people nor their needs, and instead simply condemns us. I look forward to an opportunity to educate him on the nature of trans people, starting with the fact that we, too, are God’s children."

Thomas W. Ude Jr., legal and public policy director at Mazzoni Center, issued this statement: “This mean-spirited amendment would not only cause harm by denying coverage, it does so in a way that plainly violates the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutional guarantees of equal protection. It singles out children who are transgender or gender-nonconforming by targeting treatment that is specific to them. Then, it imposes a barrier that is unique to that care — something that is not done for any other population. It’s bad policy and bad medicine.”

State Sen. Lawrence M. Farnese Jr. issued this statement:"I voted against the bill because the amendment forced us to take the position that some children are undeserving of health care and I refuse to do that. I believe that transgender children deserve the same access to care and treatment as every single other child in this commonwealth and I cannot understand how some people in Harrisburg do not see that."

"Pennsylvania remains in the class of states that continues to protect discrimination against the LGBT community,” Farnese added. “These are basic human rights and we have continually and systematically refused to afford them to certain classes of individuals. And here we are again, this time refusing to provide medically necessary health care for otherwise-covered transgender individuals, simply because of who they are. This is blatant discrimination and will cause transgender children to forgo necessary medical care and treatment."

"This bill picks on some of the most vulnerable children in Pennsylvania," noted state Rep. Brian Sims, the only out LGBT member of the state legislature. "This bill is the opposite of pro-family. This bill would cut off funds for counseling for some of these most vulnerable kids, who are at a higher risk of suicide. This bill is the opposite of pro-life."

White wasn't available for comment by presstime.

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