Proposed Medicaid cuts could impact Hampton Roads' schools

Jane Hammond
Contact Reporterejhammond@dailypress.com
Proposed cuts to Medicaid could impact school divisions

Millions of federal dollars that help special needs children receive services they need to attend public school could be cut in the proposed health care bill released Thursday by Senate Republicans.

The similar House-approved American Health Care Act and President Donald Trump's proposed budget could cut Medicaid spending by $1.3 trillion over the next decade, a report from U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine's office said Wednesday.

In Virginia, Medicaid pays nearly $33 million per year to schools for vision and hearing screenings and other preventative care measures. Newport News uses the majority of its Medicaid money for special-needs students who require extra medical care throughout the day, and all funds received in Hampton reimburse special education services.

According to Kaine's office, here is how much money the Peninsula area school divisions received in federal Medicaid reimbursements for the most recent reporting school years, which cover a combination of money in fiscal years 2015 and 2016: Gloucester County Public Schools: $244,296.96; Hampton City Public Schools: $710,661.35; Isle of Wight County Public Schools: $158,334.92; Mathews County Public Schools: $66,216.64; Newport News City Public Schools: $219,200.51; Poquoson City Public Schools: $34,015.30; and York County Public Schools: $105,422.19.

Williamsburg-James City County schools did not file for school-based federal Medicaid reimbursements in the latest reportable years, officials with Kaine's office and the school division said.

Kaine said Thursday morning before the Senate bill was introduced that the report was done to highlight what he said was an under-reported consequence of possible cuts to Medicaid.

"My sense is in the discussion about health care, three things have gotten huge attention: jeopardizing the status of people with pre-existing conditions; the number of Americans that would lose health care, the millions; and premium effects, especially on seniors," Kaine said Thursday. "But I think the Medicaid cuts and the effect on children have not gotten the attention that they deserve. ...

"If you're a child is in a school system and you have an IEP (Individualized Education Program, a document developed for students with special needs), because you have a specified disability, the school systems are getting reimbursed by Medicaid for most of what they do for youngsters," he said. "If you are the mom of a kid with autism, and the child is getting some special services at an autism provider, that's likely paid for with Medicaid."

In Hampton, all of the federal reimbursements the school division receives are for special education services, said Suzy Scott, deputy superintendent of operations and support. The funding goes toward some transportation, psychology services, occupation therapy, speech and language therapy, some nursing services, medical equipment and medical supplies.

A "bulk" of Newport News' reimbursements pay for special education services for students, spokeswoman Michelle Price said. That would include some types of therapy, such as physical and speech. For other students, skilled nurses funded by Medicaid may assist with feeding tubes and other medical treatment for "medically fragile students," she said.

Officials in each school division said that under federal law, they would still be required to provide services for students whose IEPs require them.

"If this money is cut, that doesn't necessarily mean that all cuts would occur in special education," Hampton City Schools spokeswoman Diana Gulotta said. "There are many laws and procedures governing financial support for students with special needs. Therefore, it is possible these cuts could take place from any part of the (general operating) budget."

In a statement Thursday after the Senate bill was introduced, Sen. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, said he met with families from Virginia who he said would be impacted by the proposed cuts.

"These federal cuts to Medicaid will have a direct impact on the ability of thousands of Virginians to access effective, community-based care.

"What's worse is, these federal funding cuts simply push the cost down to the state and localities — and ultimately to parents. That's not just 'mean,'" Warner said, referencing the president's recent comment on the House's proposed health care bill, "it will deprive access for thousands of children to services that accommodate their special needs and help them grow into more independent adults."

U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News, said Wednesday afternoon before the Senate bill was revealed that from what he'd heard, its cuts to Medicaid would "be not much better" than those made in the House-approved bill.

"When you cut Medicaid, you not only cut access to coverage, you cut a lot of services in the schools, a lot of services that take place in the public schools, particularly with disabled children," Scott said. "You have a lot of professional services in the schools, and when you cut Medicaid, that's exactly who gets hurt. ... For disabled students, the Medicaid support is a significant factor in them being able to stay in school."

U.S. Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, and Scott Taylor, R-Virginia Beach, voted for the House-approved AHCA bill in May.

Taylor's spokesman Scott Weldon said Taylor would not be commenting on the current Senate proposed bill as "it will change."

"Never in the history of the United States has Congress passed a president's budget," Weldon said about Kaine's report, which combined the proposed budget cuts to Medicaid and the House-approved figures. "All Senate Democrats should remember their recent votes against President Obama's budgets.

"A graph showing numbers under a false pretense is disingenuous and a political stunt; it is Congress and Congress alone that decides how money is appropriated," he said.

Wittman's spokesman, Greg Lemon, said Thursday that Wittman's position on the House bill is "well-documented" and that there would be no comment on the Senate bill. "When a bill is passed over there, we will evaluate it at that time."

In March, Wittman released a statement announcing his opposition to the AHCA bill. "It is clear that this bill is not consistent with the repeal and replace principles for which I stand," the statement said. "I do not think this bill will do what is necessary for the short and long-term best interests of Virginians and therefore, I must oppose it."

The statement included Wittman's five principles for replacing the Affordable Care Act, among them being: "Medicare and Medicaid must be protected and preserved."

On May 4, Wittman released a statement after voting in favor of the bill, saying that after reviewing the bill and its amendments, he believed "this legislation does what is necessary to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, meets the principles for health care reform I laid out several months ago, and puts in place policies that will expand health care choices, increase access to care, and reduce costs."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
52°