About a month ago, cuts to a state Medicaid program providing therapy to children with disabilities and developmental delays went into effect.
Child advocates have warned the cuts would put access to care in jeopardy and, as the cuts continue roll out, both lawyers and advocates are keeping an eye out for children who are experiencing gaps in care.
Before those Medicaid cuts formally went into effect, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus committed to reversing them this year.
Stephanie Rubin, the CEO of an advocacy group called Texans Care for Children, thinks that's good news, but she says it could take months for community providers to feel the change.
“You know, these very strapped community programs have been struggling to move forward and make sure that they can continue to serve young kids with disabilities,” Rubin says. “We are very concerned about the future.”
Constance Wannamaker, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas, says until the cuts are reversed, parents should be on the lookout. Wannamaker says she’s seen providers forced to close in less populated areas where it takes longer to find a replacement.
“You see areas where there was a contractor who was providing services to two, three, four, five-hundred children who have now opted out of the program,” she explains. “They are no longer continuing to provide those services. And there is just not another agency locally in those rural areas of the state that can step in and easily fill that hole.”
That lag time is something Wannamaker and child advocates are worried about.
In a statement, Carrie Williams, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), explained three providers have left the program so far. However, the agency says, it was able to find replacements for two providers without a gap in services. But HHSC says the third provider, Andrews Center in Tyler, is experiencing some gaps.
“The replacement provider -- Community Healthcore -- is working hard to get staffed up and provide full services, but we understand that there are some families in that area who are experiencing delays,” Williams.
Rubin says, even though the state is working to replace these providers, it still has an effect on the children who rely on stable access to therapy for their disability or developmental delay.
“In fact, many kids are still not getting services in those communities because it takes time to ramp up a program, and hire staff and get them trained,” Rubin says.
She says, because Early Childhood Intervention is aimed at getting therapy to a child during a crucial time in their development, time is of the essence in these cases.
That’s why Wannamaker is urging parents to file a complaint if their child is one of those children experiencing a gap in care.
“It’s distressing for a parent whose child critically needs these services to see the child regress or stagnant during this crucial time of development,” Wannamaker says, adding that, by law, parents should have a ruling on their complaint within 30 days.
Williams says state officials are aware of the how important the stability of the program is to parents in the state.
“We know this program is important to families, and we're doing everything we can to avoid gaps in service and delays,” she said in a statement.