A Houston lawmaker is trying to get the Legislature to reverse cuts to a Medicaid program that pays for therapy for children with development delays – despite it not being on the official agenda for the special session.
“I know that this is a heavy lift, so to speak,” Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis told House members Tuesday.
The therapies help some kids learn to do basic things like eat, speak or even sit up. Cuts to the program from two sessions ago have stayed in place despite lawsuits and warnings the cuts would affect access to care.
The heaving lifting could be all for naught, though. Davis' bill can’t get the governor’s signature – at least not unless it’s officially added to the special session.
Dozens of parents, their children, therapists and providers showed up to speak for almost four hours Tuesday about why this should be added to the agenda.
Stephanie Rubin, CEO of the advocacy group Texans Care for Children, says that just this week state officials said providers in Galveston and the Hill Country will have to close their doors.
“Last year we had three other providers who left the program in El Paso, Tyler and in Wichita Falls,” she said. “We have now gone from 58 ECI [early childhood intervention] nonprofit agencies [in] 2010 to … 44. That's an almost 25 percent drop in a short amount of time.”
Rubin said the state has been working to replace those providers, but that sometimes takes months and kids are left without services in the meantime. Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Charles Smith told lawmakers the agency is doing what it can to follow both state and federal laws.
“You know it’s not the goal of the commission to take away these needed services from anyone that needs them,” he said.
But advocates say state lawmakers were warned.
“You know this is something that we've been warning against for the last two years. It makes me very sad that we were actually right about this,” said Jolene Sanders, an advocacy manager with Easter Seals, one of the providers that announced it is shutting down in at least one part of the state.
The committee hearing the bill eventually passed it to the full House with bipartisan support.
Committee Chairman Republican John Zerwas told members that if the House is able to get the measure through and convince the governor to add it to the agenda, he’s “locked and loaded and ready to deliver something.”