When the Texas Legislature wants to make budget cuts, vulnerable groups are sadly often the first to be affected. We saw it earlier this year when they banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding to provide cancer screenings to low-income women, and now another vulnerable population is about to lose crucial services–disabled children.
That’s because the Texas Health and Humans Services Commission (HHSC) is about to move forward with a plan to slash Medicaid payments for therapy services by $100 million, leaving up to 60,000 children with disabilities without access to critical care.
These are children like 8-year old Brianna Dupuie, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as an infant, and whose support from physical, speech, and occupational therapists has been key to helping her thrive. The state’s proposal would dramatically cut the rate that Medicaid pays to reimburse therapy providers for their services. If these proposed rate reductions move forward, many therapists will to have to drop Medicaid patients entirely, because the amount that Medicaid would pay would be insufficient to cover the cost of therapy. That would mean that thousands of children like Brianna would be left without the support and care they need.
Home healthcare providers would be the hardest hit by the cuts. They have said that “their industry will face an average 20 percent reduction in revenue,” due to the Medicaid cuts. The rate reductions would lead to up to 60,000 disabled children losing access to highly effective home-based therapy services.
The cuts were originally supposed to go into effect on September 1, but were delayed after immense pushback from healthcare advocates, including a lawsuit from therapy providers and the families of children with disabilities who would be affected. While it briefly looked like HHSC was going to reconsider the cuts entirely, the plan is now for the cuts to go into effect on October 1 instead.
Texas Democratic lawmakers are fighting back as well. State Rep. Donna Howard has been an outspoken critic of the proposed Medicaid cuts. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer has started a petition on Change.org asking HHSC Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor, Governor Greg Abbott, and the Center for Medicaid Services to reject the proposed cuts. The petition has already gotten over 1,000 signatures (and those who are interested can sign here.) There is also going to be another HHSC hearing to discuss the cuts, taking place on Friday, September 18 at 9 am at the at the John H. Winter Building, located at 701 West 51st Street in Austin.
The crux of the problem is that the Legislature’s budget for this year mandates massive cuts to Medicaid therapy payments, and those will have to come from somewhere. HHSC’s current plan is to take them from home health therapy services, a service used by thousands of children with disabilities. But even if they take the funds from somewhere else, another needy population will likely be affected. Medicaid provides health coverage for the state’s most vulnerable residents–the poor, pregnant women, children, and others. Cutting Medicaid payments will inevitably leave some vulnerable Texas population less able to critical therapy services than they were before.
This is the situation that we’ve been left with, thanks to the Republican-controlled Legislature. HHSC has been left with a mandate to save money on Medicaid therapy services, a move that will hurt vulnerable Texans. Meanwhile, the state is losing out on billions in federal funds and potential GDP boosts from its continued refusal to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. (All while our federal tax dollars are funding other states’ Medicaid expansion, leaving us paying the bill and seeing none of the benefits.) Republicans like to complain that Medicaid is a “broken system,” and that’s why they don’t want to put more money into it. Medicaid is certainly not a perfect system, but one thing’s for certain–mandating cuts that will deny healthcare to disabled children certainly isn’t the right way to fix the problem.