Three weeks before Texas officials plan to slash funding for a program that pays for speech, physical and occupational therapy for children with disabilities, Democrats in the Texas House are asking the Obama administration to intervene.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should take action to ensure that cuts made to Texas Medicaid “do not restrict access to medically necessary therapy services,” all 50 Democrats in the Texas House wrote in a letter to Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the federal agency.
The letter comes more than a year after state lawmakers decided to cut $350 million in state and federal funding from Medicaid, the public insurance program for the poor and disabled that covers pediatric therapy services. Many in-home therapy providers have said the cuts will amount to a roughly 20 percent across-the-board hit to their revenue, forcing them to close down and stop treating needy children.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has argued that the state overpays for therapy services. Officials have sought to implement those cuts for nearly 10 months, but their effort was tied up in court after in-home therapy providers and families who used the services sued the state.
Texas won that lawsuit when an appeals court ruled in April that the families and providers had no standing to sue. Though the case has been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, state officials recently indicated they would move forward with the budget cuts on July 15.
"If these cuts are implemented as proposed statewide, it is estimated that 60,000 severely disabled pediatric patients could lose access to medically necessary services,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said in a statement. “It has become clear that our Republican state leaders are unwilling to stand up for disabled children.”
Enrique Marquez, a spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said that while Medicaid payment rates are subject to federal approval, the state "will closely monitor the ability of clients to receive medically necessary services as the reimbursement rates are adjusted."
The Democrats’ letter says Texas will submit a plan to the federal government “as soon as June 27th” about implementing the Medicaid cuts. They hope federal officials will scrutinize that plan “expeditiously” and take steps to ensure no child loses access to therapy providers, according to the letter.
House Republicans, including state Reps. Matt Krause of Fort Worth and John Zerwas of Richmond, have also opposed the Medicaid cuts, which emerged in budget negotiations between the House and Senate late in the 2015 legislative session. No Texas Republicans signed on to the letter to the federal government.