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Senate Overhaul: Medicaid & Special Needs Impact

Will the Senate’s health care overhaul pass? Right now, it’s anyone’s guess.

With the Senate currently in recess, the bill is not expected to be considered until at least next week.

What we do know is that the bill faces widespread opposition. Last week, several major polls found support for the bill hovering around 20 percent, Politico reports. According to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll, only 12 percent of Americans back the measure.

The intense opposition is fueled largely by massive proposed cuts to Medicaid funding—nearly $772 billion in cuts by 2026, according to Business Insider. A recent Quinnipiac Poll found that nearly 71 percent of Americans disapprove of the Medicaid cuts.

The core controversy focuses on the number of people who would supposedly lose health care coverage if the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, were to be replaced. Currently, that estimate is around 22 million.

But experts say the Medicaid cuts would have an impact beyond insurance coverage. As Emma Brown reports in the Washington Post, K-12 students and families might also be affected. At stake, the fate of nearly $4 billion in funding used to provide services to special needs students.

Specifically, Medicaid funds health screenings and treatment for low-income students whose families can’t afford treatment elsewhere. Salaries for school nurses, therapists, immunization services, and hearing and vision screenings are all funded directly or through reimbursements from Medicaid, Brown reports.

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Medicaid funding also helps schools support special education. When the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was passed over 40 years ago, the law called for the federal government to support around 40 percent of special education funding, Brown reports. However, full funding never materialized. Today, the federal government provides around 15 percent of IDEA funding. Importantly, school districts use Medicaid to fill funding gaps.

Under the Senate bill’s proposed cuts, however, funding for physical, speech, and occupational therapists, social workers, and wheelchairs and other special needs equipment would be sharply reduced.

In a recent op-ed in Time, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, describe a dire future for schools without Medicaid funding:

“School districts will face hard choices if the Republican cuts to Medicaid go through. Districts will be forced to raise taxes to fill the Medicaid shortfall and will have to cut other programs for kids to make up for the loss. Or they’ll stop providing students with disabilities and poor students the healthcare supports and services they need to learn and stay healthy.”

As the Senate works to revise its healthcare overhaul, school district leaders should monitor the changes that may directly affect their communities, including changes to Medicaid funding, and communicate the impact of those changes with families.  We’ll continue to monitor the bill’s progress here on TrustED.

Would Medicaid funding affect special needs students or families in your district? Tell us how in the comments.