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The Brief: Sept. 23, 2015

Rate cuts for therapy services offered under the state’s Medicaid program won’t take place on Oct. 1 as scheduled after a judge determined on Tuesday that the health of children receiving those services could be harmed.

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The Big Conversation

Rate cuts for therapy services offered under the state’s Medicaid program won’t take place on Oct. 1 as scheduled after a judge determined on Tuesday that the health of children receiving those services could be harmed.

As the Tribune’s Edgar Walters reported, the legal action was brought by therapy providers and families of disabled children who were trying to demonstrate that the cuts could lead to as many as 60,000 children losing access to services.

Walters noted that the cuts stemmed from a lawmaker mandate to cut therapy services to the tune of $350 million. The most direct way to achieve those savings is through rate cuts. "But," Walters wrote, "that seemingly simple goal to reduce payments has been complicated by some ambiguous language in the state budget, which directs the health commission to consider 'access to care' when applying the cuts."

In a piece published earlier in Tuesday, Walters reported that there was a dispute over whether the cuts' impacts on "access to care" was up for study. Walters wrote:

The state's Health and Human Services Commission ... admitted in court on Monday that it did not study how the program cuts it came up with will affect children’s access to medically necessary therapy treatments — and appeared to place the blame for that on Texas A&M University.

But Tuesday, representatives for the university denied the state’s account, saying Texas A&M researchers were never told to study access to care at all.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Trib Must Reads

Papal Visit Brings Excitement, Anxiety to Congress, by Abby Livingston – The pontiff's itinerary includes many of the Catholic and secular landmarks of the nation’s capital and its largest city. But it’s his joint address to Congress on Thursday that is sparking the most excitement among political junkies – and some anxiety.

Panetti Lawyers Want His Competence Evaluated, by Johnathan Silver – Lawyers for death row inmate Scott Panetti will get a chance Wednesday to argue that their client's ongoing mental illness — and the state's failure to evaluate his mental state — should forestall his execution for two 1992 killings.

Indigent Court Fee Case Goes Before Supreme Court, by Terri Langford – When and how local clerks can make poor plaintiffs pay court fees to get divorced will be argued before the Texas Supreme Court Wednesday, with both sides hoping the justices provide clarity on the contentious issue.  

Lawmakers Zero in on Jail Standards, Mental Health, by Johnathan Silver – To the better-known name of Sandra Bland — whose death by apparent suicide in the Waller County Jail this summer sparked national outrage — state Sen. John Whitmire on Tuesday linked three others with mental or emotional problems who have recently died in custody.

Pipeline Company Ghost-Wrote Texas Regulator's Letter, by Jim Malewitz – Weighing in on a case before the FCC, Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter signed a letter authored by a pipeline company. Critics say the move illustrates a coziness with the industries he regulates.

Travis County Can't Stop Privately Funded Prosecutions, by Jay Root and Tony Plohetski, Austin American-Statesman – Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt blasted the funding deal that allows a giant insurance company to pay for criminal prosecutions of its fraud cases, but said Tuesday that the Commissioners Court is powerless to stop it.

Rubio's Dallas Fundraiser Draws Democratic Ire, by Patrick Svitek – Democratic groups were firing on multiple cylinders Tuesday as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio prepared to drop in on Texas for a presidential campaign fundraiser.

Halliburton to Pay $18.3 Million in Back Oilfield Wages, by Jim Malewitz – Halliburton, the Houston-based oilfield service giant, has agreed to pay nearly $18.3 million in back overtime wages to more than 1,000 U.S. employees, following a federal investigation.

The Day Ahead

•    Gov. Greg Abbott will deliver the keynote address at the 5th Annual Brazoria County Transportation and Infrastructure Summit in Lake Jackson. 

Elsewhere

Frustration mounts as ethics case heads to appeals court, San Antonio Express-News

State drops efforts to recover millions from alleged dental fraud, Houston Chronicle 

San Antonio to get $1 million from feds for body cams, San Antonio Express-News 

No DWI sentencing date yet for ex-state official Jack Stick, Austin American-Statesman 

Tab to Texas taxayers for Twin Peaks could top $500,000, San Antonio Express-News

Deer breeders may sue Texas Parks and Wildlife,  Austin American-Statesman 

City Council weighs Houston's first-ever general plan, Houston Chronicle 

Quote to Note

"We can change all the forms we want, and we can pass all the new laws we want, but if we don't change the attitude and culture of the jail system, then we will still have the same problem."

— State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, during Tuesday's Senate Committee on Criminal Justice hearing on jail standards and the increasing number of suicides taking place in Texas jails.

Today in TribTalk

Texas Must Combat Fraud in Workers' Compensation, by Bill Hammond – You may not remember the dark days of Texas' workers’ compensation system some three decades ago. But I can assure you, having lived it, Texas doesn’t want to go back there.

Public Prosecutors Shouldn't be Funded by a Private Insurer, by Jerry Madden – When it comes to courtroom ethics, the means to an end is as important as the end itself. While Travis County’s partnership with Texas Mutual may be legal, county leaders and prosecutors should ask, “Is it ethical?"

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation on The Environment: The Next Five Years on Sept. 28 in Corpus Christi

•    A Conversation on Criminal Justice: The Next Five Years on Oct. 6 in Huntsville

•    A Conversation on God & Governing on Oct. 7 in Austin

•    The Texas Tribune Festival on Oct. 16-18 at the University of Texas at Austin

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