With two weeks to go before Texas seeks to slash a program's funding that pays for speech, physical and occupational therapy for children with disabilities, therapy providers are announcing new support from state lawmakers in an effort to postpone the budget cuts.
It’s the latest development in a last-minute campaign to stop a $350 million cut to Medicaid, the federal-state insurer for the poor and disabled, that state lawmakers ordered in 2015 but has been tied up in court for nearly a year.
A lobby group for in-home therapy providers on Thursday touted written support from two Texas congressmen and about two dozen state lawmakers, bringing the group’s count up to 75 state lawmakers — 61 Democrats and 14 Republicans — who have written to health officials in the final days before the cuts are scheduled to take effect.
Texas lawmakers ordered the $350 million cut in federal and state Medicaid funding for pediatric therapists in their two-year budget passed in 2015, arguing that the state overpaid for those services. Many in-home therapy providers who treat children covered by Medicaid say the payment reduction would amount to a roughly 20 percent revenue cut that would force them out of business.
In the year since that budget was passed, dozens of lawmakers who voted for it have asked Texas officials to delay the cuts in order to study their projected effects more closely, for fear the move would jeopardize children’s access to health care.
The lawmakers' letters come amid an 11th-hour appeal by a group of in-home therapy providers and families of children with disabilities to the Texas Supreme Court for an emergency delay to the cuts’ implementation. They lost their lawsuit against the state in April when an appeals court found it lacked standing, but the group has appealed the ruling and hired a former justice on the state’s high court, Wallace Jefferson, for legal help.
Fourteen House Republicans, led by state Rep. John Zerwas of Richmond, wrote to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission on Thursday to ask the agency to study how the budget cuts will affect children’s ability to get therapy services.
They also asked the state to conduct a new study about how much Texas Medicaid is paying for those services compared with other public programs. The previous study the state commissioned has been extensively criticized by providers, and the lawmakers wrote that its “methodology used to collect the data [is] not known to the public.”
In addition, all 11 Democrats in the Texas Senate on Thursday wrote to the Obama administration asking it to intervene on the Medicaid cuts. Last week, all 50 Democrats in the Texas House wrote a similar letter.
Texas Congressmen Lloyd Doggett of Austin and Gene Green of Houston, both Democrats, also wrote to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking federal officials for an “expedited plan to assess the impact” of the cuts.
Read more about the origins of Texas' fight over how much to pay pediatric therapy providers.