State Senate passes clean CHIP bill; Wolf will sign it into law

State Senate passes clean CHIP bill; Wolf will sign it into law

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In a 43-6 vote this week, the state Senate passed a funding-renewal bill for the state's Children's Health Insurance Program that doesn't ban funding for gender-confirmation surgery.

The state senators who voted against the bill are Ryan Aument, John Disanto, John Eichelberger, Mike Folmer, Scott Hutchinson and Scott Martin. They're all Republicans.

CHIP provides health-care services for 177,000 low-income children in Pennsylvania. Without passage of H.B. 1388, funding for the program in Pennsylvania would have ended by March.

The Dec. 11 state Senate vote was praised as a victory for trans rights, because a previous version of H.B. 1388 that passed in the state Senate in October would have banned funding for gender-confirmation surgery.

But that effort drew widespread criticism from LGBT advocates. Last month, the state House of Representatives stripped anti-trans language from H.B. 1388 and passed a "clean" CHIP-renewal bill.

“I’m glad the state Senate and state House came together to do the right thing and get a clean CHIP reauthorization to the governor," said state Sen. Lawrence M. Farnese, Jr. (D). "CHIP is one of Pennsylvania’s greatest programs and should never have been tied to a discriminatory agenda. I think many of the people in the General Assembly finally realized that — and agreed to remove the language. While this was a victory for equality, the fight to provide and protect the fundamental rights of the LGBTQ community is not over. I will continue to do whatever I can to ensure all Pennsylvanians are treated equally.”

Andy Hoover, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, echoed Farnese's sentiments.

“The passage of H.B. 1388 is a win for Pennsylvania’s children," Hoover said. "The [state] Senate’s [previous] ploy to use the renewal of CHIP as a vehicle to hurt trans youth was appalling and cynical. We’re grateful that the more thoughtful path prevailed and that a clean renewal of CHIP is headed to the governor.”

State Sen. Sharif Street (D) said he was “delighted” to cast a final vote on a clean bill.

“We were victorious in defeating the discriminatory anti-trans language added to H.B. 1388 because of the hard work of so many trans activists who engaged the legislature — and because of Gov. Wolf’s steadfast commitment to the LGBT community,” Street said. “Now we must focus our attention on killing H.B. 1933, which would enact a trans health-services ban across all health-care plans funded through state dollars.”

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is expected to sign the "clean" CHIP renewal bill into law shortly. He also urged federal lawmakers to pass a federal CHIP-renewal bill.

“I applaud the Pennsylvania General Assembly for voting to reauthorize Pennsylvania’s CHIP program," Wolf said, in a statement. "But in order to provide benefits to the more than 175,000 [Pennsylvania] children enrolled, the U.S. Congress must take action immediately. Congress is failing the children of Pennsylvania and causing unnecessary anxiety for families around the holidays. I call on the U.S. House and Senate leaders to make CHIP a priority and stop this obstruction. Pennsylvania’s CHIP program depends on federal funding and it is at risk without Congress doing its job. Our kids and families deserve peace of mind about their ability to go to the doctor and get care.”

In his statement, Wolf also noted that federal funding covers about 90 percent of the $450-million cost annually of Pennsylvania's CHIP program.

LGBT advocates continue to monitor H.B. 1933, which would ban funding for trans-related medical services within CHIP and the state's medical-assistance program. The proposed legislation is pending in the state House, but isn't expected to come up for a vote until January at the earliest.

"Senator Farnese is absolutely opposed to H.B. 1933 and will do whatever he can to keep this bill from getting to the governor's desk," said Sarah N. Kurish, legislative director for Farnese.

“H.B. 1933 would cause great harm to transgender people who seek care through CHIP and Medicaid," Hoover added. "We hope that the ongoing delay of the bill is a sign that legislators are coming to their senses about what a terrible idea this is. The ACLU will continue to fight this legislation until it is no longer under consideration.”

H.B. 1933's sponsor, state Rep. Jesse Topper (R), expressed mixed feelings about renewing funding for Pennsylvania's CHIP.

"CHIP is a program which has great benefit for many children in the Commonwealth," Topper said, in a statement. "While I'm glad it has been reauthorized, I still have concerns about the decades of public policy that was changed by the Wolf administration without legislative input concerning coverage of controversial [trans] procedures."

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