Statewide funding cuts to therapies for young children with developmental delays go into effect today. Some state lawmakers have vowed to reverse cuts during the legislative session next year. But until that reversal happens, Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) providers are going to have a hard time keeping their doors open.
Families and ECI therapy providers have been bracing for lower Medicaid reimbursement rates for a while now. State lawmakers cut funding for the therapy programs last year as part of a way to save money on Medicaid. Providers tried to stop the cuts in court, but those efforts failed.
“Many [providers] have already been preparing for these cuts and have cut back on services already,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children. “So, many families are really struggling to find therapy for their kids with disabilities. Even now.”
Rubin also points out that these cuts have already been rolled into managed care contracts. So, a lot of kids on Medicaid have already been dealing with the cuts.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said recently he plans on reversing the cuts when lawmakers convene in January.
“I believe the approach was well intentioned,” Straus told Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith. “It did not work and it will be addressed in our supplemental budget.”
Rubin said this is good news, but it doesn’t solve the immediate problems.
“It doesn’t bring any immediate relief to the kids with disabilities who may lose these services this month, or in January, and their parents are going to scrambling in the next couple of months and it’s very worrying,” she said.
State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) says she’s particularly worried about children in rural areas who already face hurdles obtaining services. Howard also says Republicans leaders were also routinely urged to stop the cuts well before they went into effect.
“It was this last year in August that there were 60 of us – House and Senate Democrats – who sent a letter to the lieutenant governor and the speaker urging them, as co-chairs of the Legislative Budget Board, to use their positions on that budget board to bring it together, to prevent these cuts from happening,” Howard said.
The cuts were added to the budget as a cost-saving measure during a conference committee – when members from the House and Senate meet, often behind closed doors, to negotiate a final version of a bill. Lawmakers, in this instance, were prompted by a study that providers argue was flawed.
Howard says there were missed opportunities to admit mistakes were made.
“We have had opportunity over the past year to reverse the damage that this could be doing to these vulnerable children and the action was not taken,” she said.
A spokesperson for the state Health and Human Services Commission says the agency secured replacement therapists for some of the areas where providers have already stopped services.