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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The tough task of caring for children with disabilities is not getting any easier in Texas.
On the orders of lawmakers, planned rate cuts to therapists who provide a wide range of services to the severely disabled were scheduled to kick in today. A state district judge has stepped in to put the cuts on hold—but, now, many parents and providers are left to wonder for how long.
“Texans are such big hearted people,” says Lisa Martin, while accompanying her autistic daughter to a therapy session at the Autism Treatment Center in Fort Worth. “And I can’t imagine that people would be comfortable balancing the budget or whatever they need to do, essentially on the backs of the most vulnerable in the state.”
Like Martin, tens of thousands of Texas parents already struggle to meet the special and yes, expensive needs of children born with challenges. “She’s non-verbal. She’s 19 years old. And I dress her every morning.” Martin’s daughter, Paige, was diagnosed as a child. Her parents were told that even the most basic of accomplishments would be out of reach—like potty training and eating with a fork. But, her mother says consistent therapy over the years has made a major difference.
“She eats with a fork and she does many other things that people thought would never have been possible…so, it’s been invaluable,” says Martin, “it’s been life changing.” Nevertheless, parents now have a new worry.
Citing what they call a ‘dramatic’ increase in payments for acute care therapy services, Republican lawmakers are defending the $350 million dollars in Medicaid rate cuts to providers as a way to fight fraud. But, consider this: experts say more children now need care.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control made headlines by estimating that 1 in 88 children suffered with an autism spectrum disorder. Just two years later, that figure jumped roughly 30 percent to 1 in 68. Paul Ely, Autism Treatment Center, calls the increase a “wake up call” for Texas. He’s also concerned about the uncertainty facing the center and other providers as lawmakers wrangle over reimbursements—with care for children with severe disabilities hangs in the balance.
“A lot of our therapists have over 10 years’ experience with autism, that’s expensive, “ says Ely, “that’s an expensive service to provide.” He also cautions that cuts to services for these children would be short-sighted. As the cost for these lifelong disabilities must be born somewhere.
“As the children are needing more behavioral services in the public schools, as the children are needing more therapies in the public schools, it will only require more dollars for all of us to contribute.”
“Surely there’s got to be a way to do what you need to do fiscally without taking away money from children and adults who cannot speak, who don’t effectively have a voice,” says Martin, “they need help.”