The North Carolina Senate is considering a bill that would make it harder for families across the state to get essential health care for their children who are transgender. HB808 will create medically unnecessary restrictions based on misinformation, including limits on insurance coverage for families that use Medicaid or state employee health plans.
A handful of politicians in our state have latched onto the national trend of bills restricting health care for transgender people in an attempt to make headlines for themselves, at the expense of physicians like me and our patients.
I’ve worked with transgender youth and their families for years, and I know that gender-affirming health care is safe, effective and medically necessary for young people to live healthy lives. Every major U.S medical and mental health organization, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Federation of Pediatric Organizations, American Psychological Association and American Academy of Family Physicians supports access to gender-affirming care for transgender young people and adults.
For children before puberty, affirming care consists of social support such as helping a child pick a new haircut, wear clothes they are comfortable in, or use a different name, and working with schools to prevent bullying. There are no medical interventions for young children. For adolescents, medicine may be used to help delay or regulate puberty so that young people have time to make informed decisions about their future. For older adolescents with severe gender dysphoria–a form of acute distress when a person’s body doesn’t match their gender– hormone therapy may be a part of treatment to help reduce depression and anxiety and prevent self-harm.
Most people don’t know much about gender-affirming health care and it can feel confusing at first. That’s why experts have spent decades researching the best treatments and creating guidelines to support physicians like me. But certain politicians are taking advantage of the public’s lack of understanding about transgender health care to scare parents with misinformation. These politicians are promoting the false notion that young people obtaining gender-affirming care are being manipulated. The reality is that families seeking health care take this decision very seriously and undergo a lengthy process to obtain care. For many young people who are experiencing mental health challenges, their families drive hundreds of miles and spend countless hours trying to jump through red tape to get to the appointments they need.
This process is different for every family, because every young person is different. But across the board, gender-affirming care is directed by evidence-based guidelines, is slow and careful, includes behavioral health support and is always provided with parental consent. Ultimately, the goal of parents and physicians is the same: to see children and teens thrive and make their way toward a happy, healthy adulthood.
As a provider, I know how important it is to listen to my patients’ needs and put their goals, concerns and interests first. It’s time for lawmakers to follow suit and listen to the constituents whose well-being is at stake.
Hundreds of other providers who also understand the importance of this health care have spoken out against this bill, pointing out that it is an intrusion into private medical decisions that should be left to doctors, patients and their families. And it’s not just families with transgender kids who are at risk. If we allow politicians to overrule parents and medical experts, we’re opening the door to government overreach in all aspects of health care.
You don’t have to be an expert on the science of health care for transgender people to know that all families deserve privacy and respect when they make their own decisions about health care.
I urge all North Carolinians to speak out and demand that their representatives put aside these unnecessary bills like HB808 and focus on the real issues that impact our state, like improving the economy, addressing health care workforce shortage, and supporting teachers and schools. Tell them to do their job, and let me do mine.
Dr. Jennifer Abbott is a family physician at Western North Carolina Community Health Services in Asheville, where she leads the health center’s Transgender Health Program.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Doctors and not politicians understand health care NC families need
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