Florida Agency’s Flimsy, Misleading Data on Gender-Affirming Care Designed to Misrepresent Facts About Transgender Youth

by Delphine Luneau

Agency for Health Care Administration Released Graphics This Week With Cherry-Picked Data About Parent-Approved, Medically Necessary Care

TALLAHASSEE — Yesterday, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) released misleading, cherry-picked data purporting to show a dramatic increase in medical interventions for transgender youths in the state’s Medicaid program over the past several years. In response, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization — is calling attention to the transparently misleading tactics used by the DeSantis Administration in its campaign of misinformation against LGBTQ+ people, and especially transgender people, in Florida.

The graphics aim to falsely create the impression that gender-affirming care is being provided in a cavalier fashion, with unreasonable increases in the number of youth being served compared to just a few years ago. Their intent is to create the impression that gender affirming medical care is being prioritized over behavioral therapy. Yet this is just another example of the DeSantis administration manipulating data to present an intentionally misleading and false narrative. For example, 233 Medicaid enrolled youth received behavioral therapy for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria in 2020-21 — a 63% increase from 143 youth who received this in 2017-18. In the same year, just 55 Medicaid enrolled youth received puberty blockers — which, though representing a 267% increase from 15 youth recipients in 2017-18, is still far fewer than the number of youth receiving behavioral therapy. As presented, the data does not make clear what percentage of the purported increase are new enrollees versus youth receiving continuing care.

The number of Medicaid enrolled youth receiving any form of gender-affirming care remains quite small – yet the Florida AHCA presents percentages rather than actual counts, to mislead and scare the public. Fewer than 500 youth received gender affirming hormones in 2020-21 — just 0.02% of the more than 2.8 million Medicaid and CHIP enrolled youth in Florida at year-end 2021. A total of 55 Medicaid enrolled youth received puberty blockers – 0.002% of all Medicaid and CHIP enrolled youth. And just 12 youth age 16 and older received gender affirming surgery – 0.0004% of all Medicaid and CHIP enrolled youth. It is important to note that under Medicaid the term youth includes individuals between the ages of 18 and 21.

In response, HRC National Campaign Director Geoff Wetrosky released the following statement:

“Here we have yet another example of the DeSantis administration bending the truth to suit their political needs, and harming innocent people in the process. The truth is that gender-affirming care is lifesaving, medically necessary and supported by all major medical organizations representing more than 1.3 million doctors in the United States. The DeSantis administration has chosen to push out misleading, cherry-picked data that isn't even available to the general public on its website to push a false narrative for political ends. They're playing politics with young people’s medical care and inserting government into medical decisions that should be made between youth, their parents, and their doctors. And they are doing this while spending months and manpower to rewrite Medicaid policy for all 5 million Medicaid enrollees in the state (and their providers), in order to deny necessary medical care to fewer than 500 youth statewide. The fact that this questionable data was carefully fed to select news outlets rather than released widely exposes the true intent here – to generate controversy, get the name ‘DeSantis’ into headlines and obscure the truth, by any means necessary.”

After the Florida Department of Health released a preliminary report in April attacking the established standards of age-appropriate, medically-necessary, and often life-saving care for transgender youth, HRC responded with a corrected version that debunked the lies and misinterpretations that abounded in the two-page document. A recent Vice article found that 10 of the authors whose work was included in the report were unaware of their research being used, reporting that Florida “misstated their research,” and reported results “wildly out of context.” HRC’s response noted that the preliminary report drew inaccurate conclusions from cited research, relied on biased publications while ignoring the vast amount of evidence in favor of gender affirming care, took data out of context and cherry-picked misleading data.

The DeSantis Administration has presented itself in 2022 as one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ governmental bodies imaginable. Governor DeSantis signed into law the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” Law and the Stop WOKE Act, both of which discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in educational and other settings. The administration followed up these egregious actions by banning gender-affirming care for all individuals served by the state’s Medicaid program. In the midst of all this discriminatory, harmful policy, the governor’s former spokeswoman, who has since left to join his reelection campaign, has waged a hateful social media campaign, using slurs and innuendos against the LGBTQ+ community without care or concern for the people harmed by such derogatory language.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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