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August 19, 2015      8:16 PM

GOP opposition emerges to huge cuts in Medicaid services for disabled Texas children

Democrats were quick to voice anger, but now a growing number of heavy-hitting Republicans say HHSC needs to slow down and consider the potential impact: “We can’t allow this to happen.”

Now that a plan to slash state funding for a therapy program for severely disabled children has become better known, a growing number of Republicans – including the Texas Senate's Transportation Committee Chairman and a key House appropriator – have raised serious questions and asked the Health and Human Services Commission not to implement the changes until their impact has been fully studied.

Quorum Report learned late Wednesday that HHSC Commissioner Chris Traylor has so far received letters of concern from Republican legislators including Sen. Robert Nichols and state Reps. Four Price, John Zerwas, Brooks Landgraf, James Frank, Trent Ashby, and Charles “Doc” Anderson.

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, has publicly opposed the cuts since their inception at the end of the legislative session. Huberty voiced his concern on the House floor and the suburban Republican received no answer as to why the drastic cuts were targeted at a program that helps some of the most vulnerable Texans. Additionally, more than 60 Democratic lawmakers have signed letters asking Commissioner Traylor to delay and reconsider the changes.

The proposed cuts are scheduled to take effect September 1st, though a lawsuit has been filed and a hearing is set for Monday that could put the rate cuts on hold.

As proposed, the new rates would slash by 25 to 90 percent what the state pays providers of physical, occupational and speech therapy for poor children with severe disabilities. This would save the state $150 million on Medicaid spending over the next two years, satisfying a budget rider, but would also cause the state to lose $200 million in federal dollars, reducing total funding for the Medicaid Acute Care Therapy Program by more than half. Stakeholders say thousands of providers will be forced out of business, causing between 60,000 and 70,000 children to lose access to medically necessary care, particularly in rural areas.

“I am writing to ask that HHSC ensure consideration of all aspects of this proposed adjustment prior to implementation of any change,” wrote Rep. Price, who led the Sunset Commission report on HHSC. “I ask that your ultimate decision carefully weighs the needs of patients living in rural communities,” he said.

By Emily DePrang