Last December, when the state’s Health and Human Services Commission(HHSC) implemented a staggering $350 million cut to Medicaid reimbursements for much needed physical, occupational and speech therapy, it had a devastating impact on our state’s most vulnerable populations.
It dramatically rolled back vital medical access for low-income families and those with special needs children. The cuts closed the door to families in rural areas where access to care is already limited. I warned our state leaders of these outcomes when they pushed to enact the measure, and so did the families who were directly affected.
Since the summer of 2015, these families have been fighting cuts to Medicaid-funded services with remarkable courage, sacrifice and perseverance. They stood to lose everything that matters most to them as parents, and they refused to give up.
One example of a family that is fighting this heart-wrenching battle is that of 12-year-old Chance Moreno. Due to the Medicaid cuts, the Moreno family is now at risk of losing coverage that would allow Chance to continue essential therapy and receive life-saving medications. Keeping this coverage is critical for Chance to obtain respite and personal care services allowing him to participate fully in his community and among his peers.
The Maher family also has struggled to get help for their 10-year-old son. Brandon Maher was born with a brain disorder making him dependent on others to help him with basic tasks like eating, walking or communicating. Physical therapy allowed Brandon to hold his weight, which helps move him from the bath to his bed to his wheelchair.
Speech therapy helped prevent Brandon’s bouts of pneumonia caused by aspirated feeds, and helped him find a way to communicate with his caregivers. Brandon’s therapist developed a picture system so he could point to what he wants and needs. Occupational therapy taught Brandon to grasp objects so he could help get himself dressed.
In the last year, however, the Mahers have faced many challenges getting access to these services. Some of Brandon’s doctors no longer take Medicaid, and the family endures long delays for authorization to cover therapies.
“Brandon works harder than anyone I know, and it’s just to achieve the basics of what most of us are able to do,” says Brandon’s father, Brian Maher. “Now, we are told he could lose all the support he has received, and he deserves better.”
Despite the letters, emails and support groups that Brandon’s parents have on their side, the days ahead are certainly not going to get any easier. Brian and his wife, Sally, have been waiting 11 months for a wheelchair for their son, a request that was tied up in Medicaid wrangling. Meanwhile, Brandon has been reduced to operating a wheelchair that he has clearly outgrown.
Working together with families like the Mahers and Morenos, we gave voices to people with disabled children during public hearings on the so-called Rider 50. This was the addition to the state budget that instructed HHSC to make the draconian cuts to Medicaid services.
When my office wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott back in December imploring him to use his power to delay the implementation of these cuts to critical services, we gave him every reason to wait: These cuts were not needed.
As with any major policy change, the people of our state were expecting us to weigh the consequences of this move, and we could have done that just a few weeks later in our next legislative session.
When families can no longer afford to pay for badly needed therapies for their disabled children, the businesses that provide these services close down, taking jobs with them. But the bigger tragedy happens when children’s disabilities worsen because they have no one to teach them the skills to help themselves. As you contemplate where you stand on this issue, ask yourself one question: Who is going to pay for the additional care that will be needed when all the progress made by these brave children is lost?
State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, represents Senate District 26.
Published By: My San Antonio
Author: José Menédez