The Republican-controlled Texas legislature voted in 2015 to cut Medicaid benefits for children's therapy services by $350 million. The cut went into effect on Dec. 15, and could mean bad news for disabled children in the state.
The massive cut reduces payments for many speech, physical and occupational therapists who work with disabled children, which may mean about 60,000 children won't get the therapy they need, reports The Associated Press.
Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Carrie Williams said the budget cuts are designed to "achieve savings," saying, "We will monitor the reduction of rates to ensure access to care is not impacted."
The U.S. Department of Education warned on Dec. 9 that Medicaid cuts will affect up to 25 percent of therapy providers in Texas' Early Childhood Intervention program, some of which could drop out.
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Stephanie Rubin, head of Texans Care for Children, told The Texas Tribune via email how the cuts will likely affect disabled children:
If these groups do pull out of the program, it will be devastating for kids with autism, speech delays, Down syndrome, and other disabilities and delays.
We know that these groups want to keep serving children and we know staff at [the Texas Health and Human Services Commission] is working hard on this, but the Legislature needs to make sure the funding is in place.
A group of therapy providers and families tried to block the massive GOP-sponsored cut in court for almost a year, but they were shut out by an appeals court.
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The U.S. Department of Education said on Dec. 9 that it would work with Texas health officials to "ensure that early intervention services are made available to all eligible infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families."
Williams, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman, told The Texas Tribune: "It wouldn't be appropriate to comment publicly on rumors about providers. Providers are required to give us 120 days' notice before terminating, and we have not received any such recent notice" except for one that is closing in North Texas."
After almost a year of a court battles and public outrage, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said on Nov. 29 that he would try to replace the funding when Texas lawmakers go into session in 2017.
Republican state Rep. John Zerwas said on Dec.15 state savings "becomes insignificant” if children are not able to be hospitalized or have surgeries because of the therapy cuts.