Florida transgender people suing the state over Medicaid’s ban on gender-affirming health care are now awaiting a federal judge’s decision.
Arguments in the lawsuit, which began earlier this month, wrapped up Monday, just days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation further restricting transgender people’s access to health care in the state.
The plaintiffs in the case are two transgender adults named August Decker and Britt Rothstein, as well as two transgender minors and their parents.
“These are people who are on Medicaid because they’re low-income or disabled, and they can’t otherwise afford the treatments they need,” said Simone Criss, director of the Transgender Rights Initiative at Southern Legal Counsel, one of the groups representing plaintiffs. .
According to Carl Charles, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, the attorneys obtained eight expert witnesses, including psychologists, clinical researchers and health policy experts, who testified about the merits of gender-affirming care during the trial.
They argued that puberty blockers, hormone therapy and some surgeries are safe and effective in treating gender dysphoria, which is the medical term for the disorder a person experiences when their body does not match their identity.
“The message is clear: this care saves lives,” Charles said.
Lawyers for the Health Care Agency, which last August issued a rule barring Medicaid reimbursements to health care providers who provide such treatment, defended the ban. They argued that the treatments were experimental and that it was reasonable for the state to end their Medicaid coverage.
Plaintiffs, including some whose Medicaid benefits previously paid for their gender-affirming care, also shared their stories during testimony.
Britt Rothstein, 20, received hormone therapy through Medicaid and was pre-approved for chest surgery before the rule took effect. After learning Medicaid would no longer cover the surgery, Rothstein was forced to rely on GoFundMe donations to pay for it, Chris said.
“Not everyone will have that opportunity, and frankly, they shouldn’t,” she said. “They’re eligible for Medicaid and they’re eligible for the same aspects of care as their cisgender peers, and so people have to jump through these hoops and beg other people for money to cover their health care. “The necessary treatment is simple, it’s devastating.”
The lawsuit was amended to also challenge a provision in SB 254, legislation signed by Gov. DeSantis last week, that codifies the Medicaid ban into law and prohibits the use of other public funds to cover gender-affirming treatments.
There is no exact timetable for when U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle will rule on the case, but Charles expects a decision soon.
“It was clear to us today that there is a sense of urgency and harm in court that not only faces our clients and transgender Medicaid beneficiaries in the state of Florida, but now that the scope of SB 254 is as broad as it is, more transgender people in general,” said he
Another lawsuit is underway challenging rules state medical boards put in place in March barring doctors from providing sex-confirmation care to minors. Lawyers have adjusted that lawsuit to include other provisions of SB 254 that strengthen those rules and also make it harder for adults to access health care.
Last week, Southern Legal Counsel was among the groups that filed a motion to have Judge Hinkle issue a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the law while the case continues.
Chris said Hinkle indicated he would rule on that order at the same time as ruling on the Medicaid case.