© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A hearing on banning Florida Medicaid payments for gender-affirming care pits religion against science

A transgender pride flag waves against the blue sky.
Adobe Stock
A transgender pride flag waves against the blue sky.

More than a hundred people attended an Agency for Healthcare Administration hearing in Tallahassee on a proposed rule prohibiting the state’s Medicaid program from covering gender-affirming treatments.

The hearing became somewhat of a church revival as the majority of supporters were of the faith community and used their majority at times to try to drown out comments they opposed.

If the state adopts the rule, it would prevent Medicaid from paying for gender-affirming care such as hormone therapy, puberty blockers and sex reassignment surgery for low-income adults and minors. Jeannette Cooper, a co-founder of Parents for Ethical Care, believes kids who identify as transgender or non-binary are being given the wrong type of care—and she urged the state to impose the ban.

“For many children, a trans identity is a crutch. It is a placeholder for real suffering that hasn’t been named," Cooper said.

AHCA, which oversees Medicaid, claims such treatments are not medically necessary, but that’s not the majority medical opinion said University of Florida pediatric endocrinologist Michael Haller.

“Nearly every major medical organization that provides care for children, as you heard previously, had provided well-evidenced guidelines supporting gender-affirming care as the standard of care," he told the agency panel.

Medical organizations that support gender-affirming care include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.

Haller was among a handful of medical professionals who spoke at the hearing. He says AHCA’s report calling the treatments into question uses false claims and is biased. The report was released last month and calls the treatments experimental and possibly unsafe.

The only time AHCA panel members rebutted public testimony from speakers was when providers gave medical data the agency disagreed with.

“These are merely guidelines from the Endocrine Society. [They] specifically state they are not standards of care. They are just guidelines. They are the opinions of the individuals who wrote the guidelines," said panel member Quentin Van Meter, an Atlanta-based pediatric endocrinologist who is also board president of the American College of Pediatrics, an anti-LGBTQ splinter group of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Medicaid coverage generally varies by state. AHCA’s report says 26 states include transgender care as part of their Medicaid programs.

The effort to ban the care from Florida’s program is part of a series of what critics see as anti- LGBTQ moves. Gov. Ron DeSantis previously approved a law that prevents transgender kids from playing sports on teams that align with their gender identity. More recently, the governor approved a law that prohibits classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in primary schools.

Approval of the state's proposed Medicaid rule would likely kick off legal proceedings before a state administrative law judge.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.