AHCA Medicaid cuts hurt schools, Kaine says

Schools around the country are watching as the Senate moves toward a vote on the highly controversial health care bill proposed by Senate Republicans Thursday.

The bill, similar to the House-approved American Health Care Act and in line with President Donald Trump's proposed budget, calls for cutting millions of federal dollars in Medicaid spending.

The Senate bill is not expected to be voted on until after the July 4 holiday because it doesn't have the minimum number of required votes from Democrats or Republicans needed to pass, according to the Associated Press. It may change to appease the GOP senators who have said they will vote against it as it's currently written.

If applied, the cuts proposed by the AHCA and the president's budget would slash Medicaid spending by $1.3 trillion over 10 years, according to a report from Sen. Tim Kaine's office published June 21 before the Senate health care bill was made public. Kaine initiated the report to stress how the funding cuts could affect schools, he said Thursday.

Medicaid provides Virginia schools with nearly $33 million annually for student services, the report stated. Much of that goes toward special needs children attending public schools.

"I think the Medicaid cuts and the effect on children have not gotten the attention that they deserve," Kaine said Thursday during a phone interview. "If your child is in a school system and you have an IEP (Individualized Education Program) because you have a specified disability, the school systems are getting reimbursed by Medicaid for most of what they do for youngsters. … 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."

The funding, in the form of reimbursements, can be put toward medical care such as vision and hearing screenings, occupational and physical therapy and for special education aides and instructors in classrooms, according to Kaine's office.

Kaine's office detailed Medicaid funding for every school division in the Commonwealth for the most recent reporting years.

York County uses most of its $105,422 on speech, language and other forms of therapy and on part of those staff members' salaries, schools spokeswoman Katharine Goff said.

"We don't have an exact determination on how cuts would impact students, but there are two probabilities," Goff said. "It could result in a reduction of services or could result in funds being redirected from other sources — for the mandated services, we still have to provide those, so it would mean getting funds from another source."

Williamsburg-James City County Schools don't receive funding because they don't file for reimbursements, said Stephanie Bourgeois, director for student services. She said they're working toward applying in the future by identifying staff whose tasks fall under the reimbursement guidelines.

"We've taken a baby step toward applying," Bourgeois said. "Medicaid funding is based on direct billing which means you have to ID staff and processes that are billable. As you can imagine, it's a fairly involved process."

She didn't know how much money the division could have been receiving from the federal government over the years if they had been billing services.

That doesn't mean the division's students won't be affected.

From 2011 to 2015, nearly 34 percent of students within W-JCC's boundaries were covered by Medicaid or children's Medicaid, according to U.S. Census Bureau data compiled by Kaine's office. Ten percent of York County students were covered within the same time frame.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, released a statement Thursday after the Senate bill was made public.

"These federal cuts to Medicaid will have a direct impact on the ability of thousands of Virginians to access effective, community-based care," Warner said. "What's worse is, these federal funding cuts simply push the cost down to the state and localities — and ultimately to parents. … 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. Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, and Scott Taylor, R-Virginia Beach, voted in favor of the House-approved AHCA bill May 4.

Staff Writer Jane Hammond and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
64°