Florida seeks to shield a top health official from testifying in gender-affirming care lawsuit
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is asking a federal appeals court to shield a top health official from having to testify in a legal challenge to a rule prohibiting Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming care for transgender people.
Lawyers for Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Jason Weida went to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle rejected a request to prevent Weida from being deposed by plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Seeking what is known as a writ of mandamus from the Atlanta-based appeals court, the state’s lawyers argued that Weida should not have to testify because he is a high-ranking official.
“Secretary Weida’s schedule is demanding. He oversees over 1,500 employees, and the largest budget of any state agency. He’s particularly busy now that the Florida Legislature is in session and debating laws concerning agency priorities (including the agency’s budget for the next fiscal year),” the state’s lawyers wrote.
Before his appointment as secretary this year, Weida was the agency’s assistant deputy secretary for Medicaid policy and Medicaid quality at a time when it developed a rule that blocked payments to health-care providers for treatments such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries for transgender people.
The state’s lawyers have cited what is known as the “apex doctrine,” which is designed to shield high-ranking officials from testifying if information can be obtained in other ways.
But Hinkle on Friday ruled that Weida has “relevant, indeed significant, information not available from other sources” and ordered him to be deposed before April 21.
A trial in the case is scheduled to begin May 9. A group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in September challenging the rule. The plaintiffs’ attorneys have clashed with the agency’s lawyers, who balked at releasing documents and other information.
While some records have been protected from public scrutiny, others show that Weida was an architect of a key report and was instrumental in the creation of the rule.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have argued that Weida “was the face of the antitransgender push, controlling the organization’s messaging” and “personally chose” experts who contributed to the report supporting the agency’s decision to stop Medicaid payments for gender-affirming care.