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Evers vetoes provision that sought to block Medicaid coverage of gender reassignment surgeries, puberty blockers

The GOP measure to block Medicaid coverage may not have been legally enforceable

Gov. Tony Evers looks ahead as he speaks.
Gov. Tony Evers speaks before signing the 2023-2025 biennial budget Wednesday, July 5, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Gov. Tony Evers used his veto pen to preserve Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming health care.

Last week, Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled Legislature approved a budget that included language barring Medicaid reimbursement for gender reassignment surgeries. It also barred coverage of puberty blockers in instances when those medications are used to treat gender dysphoria or to assist in gender transition.

But on Wednesday, the Democratic governor struck out those provisions, citing his objections to “hateful, discriminatory, and anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric.”

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“Gender-affirming care for transgender and gender nonconforming people with gender dysphoria is recognized as the standard treatment by most major medical associations,” his veto message said. “Reducing access to gender affirming care would only magnify the inequities in health outcomes already faced by the LGBTQ community.”

In a news release blasting Evers’ budget response, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Wisconsin’s Medicaid program “should not be funding transgender surgeries and gender-affirming care.”

The statement added, “the Governor’s veto allowing this practice to continue takes money away from low-income families who truly need Medicaid dollars for important healthcare visits and procedures.”

Even if the GOP-blocked Medicaid provision had made it into law, it’s not clear whether it would have been legally enforceable. In 2019, a federal judge struck down a decades-old state policy that excluded gender-affirming care from Medicaid coverage.

The legal ambiguity surrounding the budget language on gender-affirming coverage underscores the “cynical” motivations of Republican lawmakers who included that provision, said Tessa Price, an organizer with Trans Advocacy Madison.

“I think they’re trying to signal to their base that they don’t like LGBTQ+ people,” she said. “They are trying to capitalize off this years-long nationwide, frankly, international media sensation that trans people are evil, that we’re coming for your children, when we’re just trying to live our lives.”

Price, who is transgender and uses Medicaid coverage, praised Evers’ veto. She said without his actions, Wisconsin risked losing transgender and gender non-conforming residents to more liberal states like Illinois or Minnesota.

“I don’t think anybody wants to live in a state where their health care can be taken away on the whim of their state government,” she said.

In all, Evers used his partial veto power to alter about 50 provisions in the GOP version of the state’s next two-year budget. A two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Legislature would be necessary to override his vetoes. Republicans have that supermajority in the Senate, but not in the Assembly.