May 19Stressing that school districts use Medicaid money to meet federal special education mandates, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey warned Thursday that cuts proposed by Republicans could mean $40 million less nationwide in federal funding that helps school students.
"Pennsylvania schools and intermediate units received nearly $135 million in Medicaid Reimbursements in 2014-15," Casey, D-Scranton, said during a phone conference. "This money helps provide special education services, health screenings and pre-kindergarten early intervention programs."
Data provided by Casey showed Luzerne County School Districts, the West Side Career and Technical Center and the Luzerne Intermediate Unit received a total of $2.6 million. Assuming a 30 percent cut proposed in the new American Health Care Act passed by the House of Representatives along a party-line vote, Luzerne County schools would lose $785,583.
Schools use Medicaid money to pay for things like occupational and physical therapy, devices that can help those with hearing or vision problems, mobility aids, speech pathology services, nurses and psychologists.
Casey noted that in many instances, the services Medicaid helps cover are required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, so that if the federal government cuts the funding, the districts must still provide the service under federal law.
"They will have to raise property taxes or cut other services," Casey said. "They are probably going to do both, and that's not a scenario anyone wants to see."
Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators Executive Director Mark DiRocco said that, overall, "children represent about 46 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries," and that the services it pays for are "vital for kids in order to learn to their full potential.
"Federal funding for special education services, by statute, is supposed to be around 40 percent," DiRocco said. "It has never been more than 18 percent since its inception.
Casey criticized Republicans in both the House and Senate for negotiating the cuts behind closed doors.
"I think it's important to have a good, long debate about this," he said, urging senate Republicans "not to come out of that dark room with a proposal and just ram it through."
Casey said it's difficult to predict when the senate version of the bill, intended to replace the Affordable Care Act that became known as Obamacare, will come up for vote, but he expects it to be fairly quick. "The second half of June seems to be where we're heading."
That's too soon for such a major change affecting millions of people, he added.
"If they have an idea that is so positive and is such a great improvement to our health care system, why not subject it to the light of day and scrutiny, and have some hearings so when we vote on it, it has been fully vetted."
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