State lawmakers pass clean CHIP bill but some are 'raging'

State lawmakers pass clean CHIP bill but some are 'raging'

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In a unanimous vote this week, the state House of Representatives passed a funding-renewal bill for the state's Children's Health Insurance Program that doesn't ban funding for gender-confirmation surgery.

"This is a major win, especially on Transgender Day of Remembrance," said openly gay state Rep. Brian Sims (D) on his Facebook page. But Sims warned that some of his Republican colleagues are "raging" about the vote.

Last month, in a 37-13 vote, the state Senate passed a CHIP-renewal bill that banned funding for gender-confirmation surgery. But on Nov. 20, the state House Rules Committee stripped anti-trans language from the bill, before sending it to the House floor for a vote.

The "clean" CHIP bill is expected to be approved by the state Senate next month and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.  

A spokesperson for Wolf issued this statement: "We believe the [state] House has acted responsibly. For decades, CHIP reauthorization was done in a straightforward way because this program is so important to so many children and families. Gov. Wolf urges the General Assembly to get this clean reauthorization to his desk as soon as possible."

LGBT advocates hailed the Nov. 20 vote as a victory for trans rights, while remaining concerned about a separate anti-trans health-care bill also under consideration is Harrisburg.

H.B. 1933 would ban state CHIP and Medicaid funding for gender-confirmation surgery and other trans-specific health services. The bill also would allow state officials to seek a federal waiver, if one was needed to enable the bill's anti-trans agenda.

On Nov. 20, the state House Health Committee approved H.B. 1933 in a 16-9 vote, with all Republicans on the committee supporting the bill and all Democrats in attendance opposing it.

As of presstime, the bill hadn't reached the House floor for a vote.

H.B. 1933 was introduced by state Rep. Jesse Topper (R) from Bedford County. In an email, Topper explained his reasons for introducing the bill.

"I know it's a highly sensitive and emotional issue," Topper said. "It's my belief that tax dollars should not be used for procedures and services that many in the medical community feel are not medically necessary. I understand that opinions differ on this issue. But there is no doubt that we are not dealing with settled medical and psychiatric practices. There are too many questions concerning this issue at this time to allow tax dollars to be used in this way. Those are my reasons for introducing this legislation."

State Sen. Lawrence M. Farnese Jr. (D) blasted H.B. 1933.

"This is another attempt of legislators to replace the medical judgment of doctors with their own political views," Farnese said. "Refusing to cover medically necessary health care for otherwise covered transgender individuals is morally repugnant, blatant discrimination, and in violation of federal law. The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land and it continues to prohibit federally funded health insurers and health-care providers from implementing blanket exceptions based on sex discrimination. Yet that’s exactly what this bill would do. If this bill gets to the state Senate, I will fight against it every step of the way."

Thomas W. Ude Jr., legal and public-policy director at Mazzoni Center, echoed Farnese's concerns.

"Mazzoni Center has medical and behavioral health experts who can explain eloquently why this is bad," Ude said. "But the people who introduced this bill don’t care about health care. They’re deliberately indifferent to well-documented health and medical needs, and single out transgender people to cause them harm. This bill would deny coverage for procedures that would be covered for another diagnosis. They offer no justification for that unfair treatment because there is none. We will work with our allies to educate Pennsylvania legislators and fight this vicious assault on the rights of people who are transgender."

Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, commended the state House for unanimously passing a CHIP-renewal bill without anti-trans language.

"We commend the state House of Representatives for unanimously passing a clean CHIP bill today," Randol told PGN. "Playing politics with children's health care is cruel and shameful. Therefore, we will be vigilant about opposing H.B. 1933 at every step of the way."

Jason L. Goodman, executive director of Pennsylvania Youth Congress, also praised the state House for passing a "clean" CHIP bill.

“Ensuring that a clean CHIP bill becomes law will save lives,” Goodman said, in a statement. “The [state] Senate made a cruel decision to use transgender children as a wedge issue. The [state] House said no and passed a clean CHIP bill for the second time. It is now up to the [state] Senate to do the right thing and concur on this legislation quickly so health care can be assured for the nearly 200,000 Pennsylvania children that depend on this vital program.”

Pennsylvania Youth Congress shared a statement from an Allegheny County trans teen who noted that “If it had not been for CHIP covering my medical transition, I would not be alive today. Hormone-replacement therapy has changed my life in so many amazing ways. Thanks to CHIP, I can look in the mirror and sincerely say that I am myself. I can sleep easy knowing I am headed in the direction of my entire truth being lived.”

CHIP provides health insurance for low-income children 18 and under.

Pennsylvania spent $48.5 million to support CHIP last year. The federal government contributed $402.5-million. About 177,000 children are served in Pennsylvania.

Without enactment of a state CHIP renewal bill, funding would end at the end of the year.

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