Therapy cuts impact Texas’ most vulnerable kids

Therapy cuts for kids expected to deal state a serious blow (Nexstar Photo)
Therapy cuts for kids expected to deal state a serious blow (Nexstar Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to therapy payments for kids with disabilities are set take effect Thursday.

The state’s cut in Medicaid reimbursement rates is expected to greatly reduce the number of therapists who treat kids with disabilities in Texas. “We will address those needs. Those parents should not lose sleep over this,” said Sen. Charles Perry.

The Republican out of Lubbock said the rate cut is “internally” and “continuously” being discussed by state lawmakers on both sides of the chamber. Perry said, “This is a unified effort that we won’t leave those most medical fragile kids without access to care.”

Texas lawmakers ordered the $350 million cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates in 2015 to help balance a $1 billion in property tax relief. “It’s a very small population. The cuts that were made were based on very sound methodology. Now, that doesn’t help the parents that has one of those issues,” said Perry.

A member of the Health and Human Services Senate Committee, Perry pointed to a state-commissioned study that found in comparison to other public insurance programs, in-home therapy providers were overpaid by Medicaid.

It’s no secret Texas lawmakers will have tight fists when the state legislature convenes next month. Perry said, “We still have some tough decisions to make because we have $46 billion decrease in projected revenues to deal with.”

But therapy providers and parents are hopeful Texas will replace the lost money when the 85th legislative session starts in January. “This rate cut could affect anybody,” said John Branham, spokesman for Any Baby Can.

The Austin-based non-profit organization helps Texas families with critically ill or disabled kids from birth to age 12. “People out in the community need to be aware of this because this could happen to their child and they could find themselves needing these therapies that are being put into jeopardy,” Branham said.

The state cut Medicaid reimbursement rates for child occupational and speech therapists, including those that work with children who are not old enough to go to school. “Then what happens is they get shoved into the special education program which is expensive and has high qualification rates on top of that,” Branham said.

He argues that the reduced rates will put more pressure on the public school system cost the state more money in the long run. If the state does reimburse some of the money lost, Sen. Perry said geography will likely determine how those dollars will be divvied up. The cuts are expected to have the greatest impact on kids who live in rural areas where services are already limited.

The Department of Health and Human Services vowed to monitor the cuts to ensure Texas kids do not lose access to care. Therapy providers said they’ve already seen how drops in funding hurt the most vulnerable kids — babies born prematurely, or with Down syndrome, or other conditions that can cause developmental delays.

Perry said, “Unfortunately there’s been a lot of politicizing and pandering to the message that we are going to leave our most fragile without access to care, that’s simply not case.”