By Charlie Megginson | Staff Columnist
Read any newspaper in Pennsylvania, and you’re likely to see this headline: It could soon be illegal for transgender youth in Pennsylvania to receive healthcare under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. But before you get upset with out-of-touch lawmakers in Harrisburg, let’s dig a little deeper into the context of Senate Amendment 1 to House Bill 1388.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, provides healthcare for over 177,000 children and families in Pennsylvania. Just like any other insurance, this program pays for the essentials: checkups, physicals, emergency medical services, medications and more. There’s just one difference — CHIP is publicly funded. Pennsylvania Sen. Don White (R-41 District) doesn’t believe taxpayer funds should be allocated to sex reassignment surgeries for children. That’s why he drafted the amendment to the bill which reauthorizes CHIP. The amendment is only one sentence long and removes the requirement that sex reassignment surgeries be funded under the health insurance program.
The topic is a controversial one, prompting emotional responses from both sides. But what if the issue behind this controversy isn’t an issue at all? It looks like that might be the case.
Reacting to the amendment, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, sent out a mass email, saying, “This attack is dangerous and mean-spirited. The amendment puts the health and safety of children across the commonwealth at risk. Protecting children and ensuring they have equal access to healthcare is a nonpartisan issue, and we urge the House Rules committee to reject this harmful amendment.”
Sen. White doesn’t believe his amendment is discriminatory. Describing his motives for drafting the amendment, Sen. White stated, “The CHIP Program is a tremendous resource to families in our Commonwealth. However, Gov. Wolf’s effort to require the program pay for gender reassignment services is not in the interest of the taxpayer. I’m eager to see this program reauthorized, while ensuring it offers critical health care coverage to children as originally intended when the program was created.”
In attaching this amendment to the legislation, Sen. White is putting House Democrats in an uncomfortable position: vote against the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program entirely, or vote for its reauthorization with the caveat that sex reassignment surgeries are no longer be covered. But just how many transgender children have used CHIP money to undergo sex reassignment? Almost none. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, of the 177,000+ children enrolled in the program, only 34 have requested counseling, medication or sex reassignment surgery. Ultimately, no surgeries have been funded under the program.
Further, The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the world’s leading transgender advocacy group, advises that young people should only be allowed to receive sex reassignment surgery after they’ve reached the age of medical consent. In the U.S., that age is 18. With the Children’s Health Insurance Program only covering children from birth to age 19, Sen. White’s amendment would only apply to transgender young people between their 18 and 19 birthdays.
So now, we, the reasonable people of the world — the people who aren’t afraid to dig a little deeper into news stories with inflammatory headlines — are left with two questions: First, why would news agencies publish articles accusing Republicans in Harrisburg of trying to take away all health care from transgender youth? And second, with almost nobody trying to use CHIP to pay for sex reassignment, why would Sen. White take a non-issue and make it an issue?
To answer the first question, let’s acknowledge a simple truth: There’s no better way to increase views on an article or column than with an inflammatory headline. And who wouldn’t be outraged by an out-of-touch senator trying to deny basic healthcare for transgender children? But you know, and I know, Sen. White isn’t doing any such thing. Transgender children will still be able to go to the dentist or the emergency room or receive their medication. To write an article suggesting otherwise is enabling the toxicity that has plagued political discourse in recent years. Rather than respectfully debating the legitimate political question of whether taxpayer dollars should be used to pay for sex reassignment surgeries, opponents to the former must defend themselves against claims that they are robbing children of access to basic healthcare.
The second question is a bit trickier. If almost nobody is trying to use CHIP to pay for sex reassignment, why would Sen. White (or any sensible politician) not simply avoid needless drama and a political firestorm?
If we look to his electoral history, we’ll see that Senator White has been in office for 16 years, and, in his most recent election, he won his seat with nearly 70 percent of the vote in his district. It’s safe to say that he won’t be losing any support over this controversial move. In the eyes of the senator, what does he have to lose? There’s one thing politicians crave more than anything else: attention. It’s attention Sen. White wanted, and it’s attention he’s getting.
This scenario is typical of the divisive nature of politics today. Here’s the simple reality — on this issue, nobody wins. Headlines are crafted to create controversy that just isn’t there. And instead of focusing on the issues that matter to the people, politicians seek attention by highlighting issues that they know don’t exist.
I’d bet you’re getting pretty sick of politics. You never get a break; every time you turn on the television or the radio, or open the news app on your phone, all you see is mudslinging. You say to yourself, “I’m not going to get involved, because I don’t want to get stuck in the mud.” That’s normal. That’s okay. But maybe, one day, you and I can rise above the swamp, each of us with differing opinions, and have a conversation.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll get something done.