The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees all children a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. IDEA requires that children with special needs receive individual educational plans that include specialized in-school and after school services specific to their needs. Many schools rely on Medicaid to pay for the therapies included in these plans such as, speech, occupational and behavioral therapy, which are considered essential components of a child’s overall education plan. A recent bill passed by the House, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) would sharply limit the federal governments contribution to Medicaid.
The AHCA would enforce a fixed amount per Medicaid beneficiary each year, indexed to inflation. With projected Medicaid cuts equaling $880 million over 10 years, special education services and therapies would be in jeopardy. Because of these cuts, states would be responsible for paying a larger share of the Medicaid costs, which would most likely result in coverage reductions or limits on services. The new bill would make schools compete for funding with other entities, such as hospitals and clinics that serve Medicaid-eligible children.
This possible cut in government funding has caused uproar among schools and organizations that provide services to children with special needs. The National Disability Rights Network said in a May 4 press release: “[T]oday, we took a giant step backward. . . The projected loss of $880 billion in federal Medicaid dollars will compel states to ration health care for children, including important mental health services, impacting the ability of schools to provide needed education services to their students and lead to noncompliance with the federal mandates under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”
The AHCA will now move to the Senate for debate and possible changes.