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Did Missouri AG illegally seek patient records in trans inquiry? Lawsuit alleges overreach

A lawsuit filed this week alleges that Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey did not have authority to demand access to patient information and records from a St. Louis transgender center.

The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court by Washington University in St. Louis, asks a judge to determine whether the Republican attorney general’s investigative demands to the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital were legal and whether his requests should be modified.

“The patient records contain deeply personal information regarding medical history, care and treatment, treatment decisions, mental health assessments, and otherwise,” the lawsuit states.

The focus of the lawsuit is an investigation that Bailey launched into the center for transgender kids in February amid an onslaught of Republican attempts to regulate health care for LGBTQ youth. Bailey used the state’s consumer protection law, called the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, to demand access to patient health records at the center.

The lawsuit questions whether some of Bailey’s demands for health care information for more than 1,000 patients and for testimony from a doctor and nurse are in line with the state law, which typically deals with false advertising.

“Certain statements have been made by the Attorney General that have caused Washington University to further question whether all of the requests (including those at issue now) are properly within the scope of the MMPA,” the lawsuit says.

Those statements, the lawsuit alleges, suggested that Bailey’s investigation was more directed at medical decision-making than sales or advertising. The university has worked with Bailey on the demands focused on advertising, but argues that patient records are outside of his authority.

Bailey, in a statement on Wednesday, pushed back, saying the documents “are critical to exposing that children were subject to irreversible, life-altering procedures without full and informed parental consent.”

Bailey has faced blowback and litigation for his office’s broad interpretation of the state’s consumer protection law in the past, including his attempt to use the law to restrict gender-affirming care for both adults and kids earlier this year. A judge temporarily blocked the restrictions, but Bailey withdrew the rule before a final ruling in the case.

The chief concern in the university’s lawsuit centers on the privacy of patients’ medical records with the university arguing that records are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The lawsuit states that the university asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights whether Bailey’s office would be considered a “health oversight” agency — which would be allowed to receive protected information. The university did not receive a response, it said.

The emergency rule restricting care and the investigation into the center came after claims from Jamie Reed, a former employee at the center, who alleged the center excessively provided hormone therapy to mentally ill children without first treating their underlying mental health issues.

The lawsuit states that “the appropriateness of certain disclosures of patient information” by Reed is “the subject of an ongoing investigation” by the university and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights.

Bailey, in his statement on Wednesday, seized on this line in the lawsuit, saying his office would not “let Joe Biden and his federal bureaucrats interfere with our investigation into the pediatric transgender clinic.”

The university in April released the results of an internal investigation into the transgender center, stating that “allegations of substandard care causing adverse outcomes for patients at the Center are unsubstantiated.”

But Reed’s claims, in part, fueled a major push by Republican lawmakers to pass legislation restricting gender-affirming care for minors. Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed the legislation into law during Pride Month in June.