Supporters of transgender youth rally and express their opposition of House Bill 1125 at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi Division of Medicaid is the first state agency to take a public position on gender affirming care to transgender children, stating there is not enough medical literature to support that it is a “safe and effective treatment for gender dysphoria.”

Drew Snyder, Mississippi Division of Medicaid executive director, gives a presentation during a Senate Medicaid hearing at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, November 9, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

In a letter to managed care companies that contract with Medicaid, Executive Director Drew Snyder wrote that the agency concurs with its counterpart in Florida that there is not enough evidence that “sex reassignment through medical intervention” is safe. Florida’s report was released in June of last year. 

Snyder did not respond to a call and text to his personal cell phone Thursday afternoon. His  letter was addressed to executives of Molina Healthcare of Mississippi, UnitedHealthCare Community & State MS and Magnolia Health Plan. Communications officials with the three companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“As the care coordination organizations for the majority of children and adolescents enrolled in Mississippi Medicaid, your input is welcome on approaches to effectively address any health needs without posing risky side effects or irreversible changes,” he wrote.

It’s unclear if Snyder’s letter has any effect on what services are currently covered, or why he reached out to the managed care companies instead of providers of gender-affirming care. If the agency does opt to exclude this treatment, it would join a handful of states already doing so. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas all have Medicaid policies that specifically exclude transgender health coverage, according to the Movement Advancement Project.

The Feb. 15 letter first reported by the Magnolia Tribune comes as a bill is working its way through the Legislature that would ban this kind of treatment for trans minors in Mississippi. House Bill 1125 would prevent the state’s roughly 2,400 trans kids and their families from getting hormone therapy or puberty blockers in the state. 

Snyder’s letter contradicts the advice and position of major medical associations in the U.S. on gender-affirming care. It is evidence-based, and not considered “experimental” by the majority of the medical community. 

Also known as the “Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures” (REAP) Act, the bill bans Mississippi doctors from performing gender-confirmation surgery or prescribing drugs such as puberty blockers or hormones to those under 18. 

The bill would allow for the doctors’ licenses to be revoked and create a “civil claim of action” for them to be sued with a 30-year statute of limitations. It would prohibit insurers or Medicaid from reimbursing families for such procedures and would strip doctors who provide them of the state’s generous tort claims protections.

READ MORE: What to know about gender-affirming care in Mississippi 

Gender-affirming care, or “sex reassignment” as Mississippi officials have called it, refers to a broad range of interventions, from medical treatment to psychological and social support, that aims to affirm an individual’s gender identity, especially when it is different from the one they were assigned at birth, according to the World Health Organization. 

Decades of research support gender-affirming care as the proper treatment for gender dysphoria, the distress trans people can experience when their physical features do not match their gender identity.

Research has repeatedly shown that gender-affirming care significantly boosts the chances that trans kids will live to see adulthood. A study published last year in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association found that over the course of a year, gender-affirming care was associated with 60% reduced odds of moderate to severe depression and 73% less odds of suicidal thoughts. 

Stacie Pace, the co-owner of Spectrum: The Other Clinic, said that the two main international medical organizations that write guidelines for gender-affirming care — the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and the Endocrine Society — cite hundreds of references and are easy to find on the internet. 

“All it takes is just a quick Google, and all this research is right there in front of you,” she said. 

There are three main forms of gender-affirming medical treatment: Puberty blockers, which are only for kids, hormone therapy and gender-confirmation surgery. In Mississippi, there is no clinic that performs any kind of gender-confirmation surgery on minors, according to in-state providers of gender-affirming care. 

Puberty blockers are medications that pause puberty in kids. Research has shown the effects are reversible. While hormone therapy can cause some permanent effects, such as a deeper voice, it typically takes at least a year for this to occur, Pace said. 

But Pace added that many other side effects of hormone therapy, like increased muscle mass or the development of breast tissue, will disappear over time if a patient ceases treatment. 

“It will take about as long as it took for it to occur, but it will go away,” she said.  

Alex Mills, a pharmacist who has worked with trans people, said he was confused by the letter. While a minority of his patients are on Medicaid, he hasn’t heard of Medicaid covering prescriptions for hormone therapy for trans adults since he started working in Jackson three years ago. If Medicaid covered prescriptions for his outspoken patients, Mills said they would tell him. 

“I feel like they’re just kind of jumping on the bandwagon,” he said. “It’s an irrelevant comment, because they (Medicaid) haven’t been covering (hormone therapy), so I’m just confused why they’re even saying this. Just to say it?” 

Mills said Medicaid has covered medical visits, but that he doesn’t know if it has covered puberty blockers, which can be pricey – up to $1,500 for a single shot that lasts a month. Hormone therapy is cheaper, so Mills recommends patients use GoodRx coupons to make their prescriptions more affordable. 

At Spectrum, Pace said just one youth patient is currently on Medicaid. But of the clinic’s roughly 1,000 adult patients, about half are Medicaid beneficiaries. 

The Division of Medicaid has not taken a stance on other issues being considered by the Legislature. One of those is extending postpartum care from 60 days to one year for new mothers, which Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said he has asked the agency to do.  

When a committee tasked with advising Medicaid about health and medical care services voted unanimously in October to recommend that the Legislature extend postpartum coverage, the Division of Medicaid still did not take a stance.

The State Board of Medical Licensure, which would enforce the bill’s provision revoking providers’ licenses, has not responded to questions from Mississippi Today. The University of Mississippi Medical Center, which has provided gender-affirming care to trans kids at its LGBTQ-focused TEAM Clinic, said earlier this month that “we have no comment for now.” 

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Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigating higher education. Originally from Melbourne Beach, Florida, Molly reported on public housing and prosecutors in her home state and worked as a fact-checker at The Nation before joining Mississippi Today. Her story on Mississippi's only class on critical race theory was a finalist for the Education Writers Association National Awards for Education Reporting in 2023 in the feature reporting category.

Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.

Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.