No funds for Oklahoma Children's if gender-affirming care continues, governor decides

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation Oct. 4 to immediately tie funding for Oklahoma Children's Hospital at OU Health to its halting of gender-affirming care for minors.

The law appropriates nearly $109 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to Oklahoma City-based OU Health for pediatric behavioral healthcare, cancer care, EHRs and mobile dental units, but ties the funding to OU Health ceasing "gender reassignment medical treatment" for patients under age 18. The law defines this type of treatment as "any healthcare to facilitate the transitioning of a patient's assigned gender identity on the patient's birth certificate, to the gender identity experienced and defined by the patient." 

The Republican governor's signature on Senate Bill 3XX follows a decision reached by OU Health in late September to stop some gender medicine services through its Roy G. Biv Program at Oklahoma Children's Hospital amid pressure from state lawmakers, who in an ultimatum said they would hold out on $39.4 million in funding for a new pediatric behavioral health facility if the academic health system were to perform gender-affirming surgeries.  

The governor called OU Health's decision to wind down some gender medicine services good news, but insufficient. He called for action in the next legislative session to ban permanent gender transition surgeries and hormone therapies on minors statewide.

"I am calling for the legislature to ban all irreversible gender transition surgeries and hormone therapies on minors when they convene next session in February 2023," Mr. Stitt said in a news release. "We cannot turn a blind eye to what's happening all across our nation, and as governor I will not allow life-altering transition surgeries on minor children in the state of Oklahoma."

Mr. Stitt is running for reelection to a second term in the 2022 Oklahoma gubernatorial election this November. 

An OU Health spokesperson shared the following as an official statement on behalf of the health system:

"As Oklahoma's flagship academic health system, OU Health seeks to reduce the burden of disease and improve the health of all Oklahomans. We are proud of the integrity, professionalism, care and passion our physicians and staff provide to all of our patients. Compassionate care and patient safety always have been and will remain our top priority. In light of the legislation signed by Governor Stitt, we have ceased hormone-related prescription therapies and surgical procedures for gender-affirming services on patients under the age of 18. OU Health provides care in accordance with all state and federal laws and in compliance with regulatory governing bodies."

The enactment of SB 3XX in Oklahoma came one day after the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and Children's Hospital Association asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to step in to protect physicians and hospitals who have reported threats and harassment over medical care they provide to transgender children by investigating and prosecuting all organizations, individuals and entities responsible.

"From Boston to Akron, [Ohio], to Nashville, [Tenn.], to Seattle, children's hospitals, academic health systems, and physicians are being targeted and threatened for providing evidence-based healthcare," the groups stated in their Oct. 3 letter. "These attacks have not only made it difficult and dangerous for institutions and practices to provide this care, [but] they have also disrupted many other services to families seeking care."

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