Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew takes a question at a news conference in the State House, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced an emergency rule on Tuesday that removes transgender-specific health services from the list of noncovered procedures under MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid.

Quinn Gormley, the executive director of Maine Transnet, an advocacy group for transgender people, said the move by the administration of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills “removes the first and largest barrier to getting transgender-health needs covered under MaineCare.”

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Maine became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum in 2012 and the LGBTQ-rights Movement Advancement Project ranks it among 18 states with the strongest protections for LGBTQ people. However, it has been one of 10 states that explicitly banned transgender-specific procedures from coverage under MaineCare.

The origin of that rule is unclear but dates back to at least 1979, according to Jackie Farwell, a spokeswoman for the health department. A 2017 study from the UCLA School of Law estimated that there were between 3,200 and 8,900 transgender people in Maine.

Farwell said the cost of the change is expected to be “minimal.” The change rolls back that prohibition without saying what specific procedures would be covered and complies with the federal Affordable Care Act. Farwell said the department is “pleased to take this important step towards more equitable health coverage for all Mainers.”

Gormley said this is only the first step in obtaining equitable health coverage for trans Mainers, and details on what is covered by the plan will be developed by the department later this year.

“What we’ve seen nationally and in other states is that plans are willing to cover things like hormone therapies and some surgery for trans people, but they don’t necessarily cover the full range of care needs around that care,” Gormley said.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this article, which appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.