The United States House of Representatives will soon vote on the American Health Care Act, intended to repeal and replace Obamacare. The plan significantly shifts the overall funding structure of the Medicaid program by cutting $880 billion from Medicaid over the next ten years. This has the potential to eliminate services and supports for 14 million program recipients. In addition, the proposed American Health Care Act caps federal allocations to states based on spending and enrollment levels of programs in 2016.
Parents of special needs children are frustrated and apprehensive about the probable impact these cuts will have on families with Intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) . These programs support students while they are in school and assist them with the transition into the adult world once they graduate.
Brenda Boose, single mom to an autistic son says, “Brady qualifies for post-graduate services but he’ll have to earn a job like anyone else. He should be doing it through services that are generally provided for individuals with disabilities, but those are the services that are being threatened. It’s another situation where we’re going to be on wait list after wait list. Brady is 17 years old and he’s been on a wait list to get into these programs since he was eight.”
The Boose’s are residents of Fairfax County Virginia, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation with a budget larger than four states, yet services are threatened at both the federal and state level. Lucy Beadnell is Director of Advocacy at The Arc Northern Virginia, an organization that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She says, “For the first time in years, Fairfax County’s proposed budget does not include our graduates with intellectual disabilities nor does it add in the graduates with developmental disabilities who are newly under the umbrella of the Community Services Board.”
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires all public schools to provide a free and individualized education to students with disabilities. It was originally enacted in 1975 but has been updated and modified many times over the years.
Prior to the legislation, children with disabilities were at a distinct disadvantage when compared to their non-disabled peers. Only 1 in 5 disabled children were accommodated by the public school system leaving over one million American children marginalized and without access to an education. Often, they were placed in institutions or were “warehoused”, meaning they attended school but were separated from the main student body. Though they were supervised, often they were not educated.
Betsy DeVos, United States Secretary of Education has also given parents of special needs children cause for concern. During her senate confirmation hearing she was asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) about compliance with IDEA. “I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states.” Kaine then asked, “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities and other states might not be so good, and then what? People can just move around the country if they don’t like how their kids are being treated?” DeVos again stated, “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.”
Without adequate funding, school districts may need to re-allocate general education funds to meet the standards set by IDEA. A national survey by the American Association of School Administrators found 68 percent of superintendents use Medicaid reimbursement assistance to pay for specialists like occupational and speech therapists or aides for special education students. Moreover, almost half of principals and administrators use Medicaid funds to provide mental and physical health programs in their districts.
One thing is clear, there are no easy answers. Lawmakers, advocates, and parents of special needs children will be watching closely to see how the House votes.