USF Health to comply with DeSantis’ request for data on gender-affirming care

Trans+ Student Union (TSU) executive board member Andy Pham said this decision could lead to future restrictions on trans students’ access to receiving vital care. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

USF Health will comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for Florida’s 12 public universities to send information about students who sought gender-affirming care in the last five years, according to Senior Associate Vice President Donna Petersen.  

“We’ve been asked by the state to provide some information and we will respond. That’s all we know at this point,” Petersen said 

DeSantis’ Office of Planning and Budget will receive aggregated anonymized data on students diagnosed with gender dysphoria, their ages and details on which services were used. This information from the universities is to be delivered by Feb. 10. 

USF’s Director of Media Relations Althea Johnson said the university is required to fulfill the request from the state, as long as the information does not identify individuals, according to an article from the Tampa Bay Times.

USF’s Trans+ Student Union (TSU) executive board member Andy Pham said most students are scared of what this request will mean for the future of health care accessibility. He said the importance of having Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) for trans students goes beyond its physical impact. 

“It prevents people from feeling depressed, feeling suicidal,” Pham said. “It gives people more confidence, sort of like an antidepressant really, even though it might not have the boost of an SSRI [antidepressant medicine].”

Medical services provided for gender nonconforming and transgender students, such as HRT, behavioral health and other gender-affirming care will be disclosed in an anonymized display. Pham said trans students are concerned about how the data will be organized, and if that could be detrimental to students’ privacy.

Since the survey also requested information on plastic surgeries and referrals to other institutions, the specificity of information can lead to awareness of who the patient was, according to Pham. Florida Sunshine laws would enable access to all the data provided by state universities, allowing the DeSantis administration to request private health records due to the state’s funding in public universities.  

Florida students fall under the protection of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), but since the data is anonymous, the law does not prevent the delivery of patients’ health information without their consent. 

Due to the effectiveness of proper gender-affirming treatment, Pham mentioned the blocking of access would be detrimental to transgender youth and said that most treatments are recommended by professionals.

“Even if you personally disagree with [trans access to healthcare], all major scientific and health organizations are in support of allowing doctors to work with transgender people,” Pham said.

Preventive and affirmative care’s effectiveness for gender dysphoric persons is recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Should the Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning’s request for health records lead to a restriction of access to the “non-academic” pursuit, it would conflict with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stance.

“Attempts to restrict, challenge or falsely characterize this potentially lifesaving care as abuse is dangerous,” wrote the HHS Notice and Guidance on Gender Affirming Care, Civil Rights and Patient Privacy.

The Office of Civil Rights is responsible for maintaining and enforcing civil rights laws that guarantee access to health care, prohibiting discriminatory restrictions. The notice and guidance document from March 2022 – Section 1557 specifically – provides protection from discrimination on the basis of sex or gender identity, allowing patients and families to file complaints. 

“Federally funded covered entities restricting an individual’s ability to receive medically necessary care, including gender-affirming care, from their health care provider solely on the basis of their sex assigned at birth or gender identity likely violates Section 1557,” according to the HHS notice.

The Florida Governor’s “anti-woke” platform has targeted reforms and restrictions in several sections of the education system. TSU members are concerned that this request is only the beginning of a larger project for DeSantis, Pham said, setting back the inclusion efforts for queer youth.

“Some of my colleagues have said that these ‘Stop W.O.K.E.’ and ‘Don’t Say Gay’ acts are written extremely broadly but applied extremely selectively,” Pham said. “We might see the introduction of similar policies and legislations.”