Texas to Cut Millions in Therapy Payments for Disabled Children

State & Regional

In a couple of weeks Texas will cut millions of dollars that help fund therapy for children with disabilities. 

The state will pay lower rates to child occupational and speech therapists starting Dec. 15.

That means the state will cut Medicaid reimbursement rates to those therapists, including providers that work with children who are not old enough to go to school.

Kids like Jared, a soon to be three-year-old who has Autism.

“I kind of suspected it, I just didn’t know how to deal with it,” Jared’s mom, Anita Estrada said.

With Jared seated on the floor with his occupational therapist, Estrada described what her son was like before he started therapy.

 “He wasn’t talking, he wasn’t feeding himself… He wasn’t doing anything,” Estrada said.

Before therapy, Estrada said Jared didn’t express basic emotions but now he smiles when he is happy and screams when he is mad.

 “We love that he has this communication,” Genelle Mills said over Jared’s screams.

An occupational therapist, Mills said when she first met Jared several months ago he had “no sense of communication.” Even if Mills took a toy from  his hands “Jared would have no emotion,” Mills said.

Estrada said it was tough to try to guess what her son wanted or how he was feeling. “I just didn’t know how to deal with it,” she said.

She’s watched her son make big strides in the last several months, the biggest difference, Estrada said,

“He’s not so frustrated. He’s happy.”

Texas taxpayers help pay for this therapy.

The cuts will drop funding by $350 million dollars over the next two years.

New rates originally were planned to begin Oct. 1, 2015 but a lawsuit that has since been thrown out delayed cuts.

For more than a year proponents of the cuts and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission argue the reduced rates would not make those services less accessible.

A study commissioned by the state found when compared to other public insurance programs, in-home therapy providers were overpaid by Medicaid. 

The spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services commission said the agency will monitor the cuts to make sure kids don’t lose access to services.

“The impact is already being felt,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children. “We hear from families that they are getting fewer services and less often for their babies and toddlers with disabilities.” 

Rubin said the cuts will end up costing the state more money in the long run. She believes there will be services and more kids will enter into the school system unprepared.

“When kids do not get the early intervention services that they need, more of those kids will need special education services,” said Rubin. “The costs to the state for special education for kids in schools will certainly rise.”

In a recent interview, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) said changing the rates was a “mistake” and that the state House will take up replacing the money lost this January.

Concerned about what the cuts will mean for her son’s future, Estrada is hopeful the Texas legislature reinstates the money in the upcoming session.

Estrada said the therapy is just as important to parents as it is their children because the therapists “give me the tools that I need to help him help himself,” she said. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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