The 84th legislative session may be over but the debate over some issues continues. A decision made by lawmakers will put speech, physical and occupational therapy for disabled children in jeopardy for thousands of Texans on Medicaid.
It was all part of budget cuts approved by lawmakers and starting September 1, those on Medicaid could see their options for therapy diminish. One local mother, Laura Archie, is worried this change will keep her daughters from getting the help they need.
Laura says her twin girls, Juliyah and Julianna, weighed in at just one pound each and weren’t ready to come into the world. “They were four months premature. I had them at 25 weeks.”
The twin girls spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and as they grew their mom knew the twins were going to need some extra care.
“We needed some help to keep them from being developmentally delayed,” Laura says.
Laura found Easter Seals, an organization that helps with occupational, speech and nutrition therapy.
“We were nonverbal at two and now at 31 months, she's up to saying three to four word phrases,” Laura says.
Juliana has graduated from the program but Juliyah still needs help with speech and occupational therapy.
However starting September 1, Laura will have to find a therapist who is willing to accept Medicaid, even after drastic reimbursement cuts.
“It’s frustrating and it’s sad. And as a parent what do you do? I can't force somebody to help my child,” Laura says. “When you have a child with a disability or delay, it’s not a choice. You have to have help for them.”
Todd Marvin, the President and CEO of the Easter Seals of Central Texas says it’s part of the last legislative session’s budget cuts. Lawmakers agreed to cut some $150 million from the state Medicaid fund focusing on speech, occupational and physical therapy.
“To be doing at the expense of children with disabilities in Texas at this time, it’s unacceptable,” Marvin says.
“We weren't a part of that conversation through the legislative process and so this is one of those issues that now that the legislature is done for another two years, were starting to find out what happened behind closed doors,” Marvin adds.
State reimbursements for providers will be cut from as low as 20 and up to 90 percent depending on the therapy. It puts therapists in an unfavorable position to accept new patients. Marvin says this will put disabled children at a disadvantage in school and in life.
Marvin says, “We have the opportunity to help them make terrific strides as their brains are going through these critical developmental stages,” Marvin says. “If they don't get these services they don't get a chance to succeed in life.”
Easter Seals projects some tens of thousands of families across the state will be affected. It says this will cost the state even more money in the long run.
“If they don't get those services right now, then basically what we’re doing is basically we are creating the next level of social service seekers about 20 years from now,” Marvin says.
Laura hopes lawmakers do something to prevent children like her daughter from falling behind.
“Why would you take from disabled children? These programs are here for a reason, because these children need help,” Laura says.
Marvin says there is a way to prevent this. The Health and Human Services Department can go back to the legislative budget board and say these cuts aren’t in the best interest for Texas and ask them to reconsider.