The State of Texas: disabled children to stay disabled

The State of Texas: disabled children to stay disabled December 6, 2016
No helping hand for the disabled child in Texas
No helping hand for the disabled child in Texas

This article is  republished with permission from The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas moving forward with budget cuts for disabled kids’ therapy services

Authors: Elena Mejia Lutz and Edgar Walters, The Texas Tribune, originally published 

*Correction appended.

More than a year after lawmakers originally ordered it, Texas announced in late November, 2016, it will enact significant cuts to the money that it pays therapists who treat vulnerable children with disabilities in two weeks.

Medicaid reimbursement rates are used to pay for pediatric therapy services provided to disabled babies and toddlers. Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, said that Texas will apply cuts on Medicaid rates on Dec. 15 in an attempt to achieve savings directed by the Texas Legislature in 2015.

“The most important job we have is making sure kids have the services they need and that we are responsible with taxpayer dollars,” Williams said in an e-mail. “We will monitor the reduction of rates to ensure access to care is not impacted and that Texans around the state receive the much-needed therapies required to improve their lives.”

A group of concerned Texans last year filed a lawsuit seeking to block the $350 million cut to Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, from taking effect. That group included speech, physical and occupational therapy providers and the families of children who receive their service. They argued that the cuts were so steep that providers would have to close their businesses and forgo seeing as many as 60,000 children.

In September, the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear their case, upholding a lower court’s ruling that the lawsuit lacked standing.

The commission and several health insurers with state contracts have spent the last year arguing that the cuts will not cause children to lose access to services. State officials point to a state-commissioned study that found in-home therapy providers were overpaid by Medicaid when compared to other public insurance programs.

But Stephanie Rubin, chief executive of the advocacy group Texans Care for Children, said in an e-mailed statement that schools will now have more students who will struggle in classrooms and need expensive special education services.

“This is terrible news for Texas kids with disabilities and developmental delays and their families,” Rubin said. “Kids with autism, speech delays, Down syndrome, and other disabilities and delays rely on these therapies to learn to walk, communicate with their families, get ready for school, and meet other goals.”

The advocacy group recently released a report outlining how enrollment in the state’s Early Childhood Intervention program, which provides therapy services for babies and toddlers with disabilities, dropped 14 percent from 2011 to 2015 after continued funding cuts and policy changes.

In the statement, Rubin called on Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and legislators to stop the cuts before they take effect.

“Our most vulnerable children and their struggling families should not bear the brunt of this shortsighted and cruel budget decision,” Rubin said. “Texans are watching to see what state leaders do to protect services for these kids.”

John Branham, spokesman for Any Baby Can, a nonprofit provider in the state’s Early Childhood Intervention program, said the state’s cuts would likely amount to a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in support for the organization.

“We either close that gap or evaluate whether or not our program will be sustainable,” Branham said. “By taking therapies away from children, you’re not solving a problem, you’re just pushing a problem down the line. We’re trying to get these children school ready. The problem is not going to go away.”

Read related coverage:

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Texas had quietly announced it would soon enact cuts of therapy services for disabled children. The Health and Human Services Commission emailed the news to several reporters.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune and is posted here.

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  • Robin Shope Jansen

    This is totally appalling. As a special education teacher with well over 30 years of experience, I personally know how invaluable these services are to the struggling children and families. It seems the state of Texas keeps taking giant steps backwards and now led present Governor who says that mental illness is not real, but made up. The former Governor Perry refused extra funds for social security that was available through the Democratic leadership of this county because he disliked President Obama so much. I am totally sickened by the continued cold heartedness of the Republicans who call themselves Christians, yet demonstrate the opposite of what the Bible teaches.

    • Linda Coleman Allen

      I am thoroughly ashamed of the government in my home state.