May 19Proposed Medicaid cuts of $880 billion included in U.S. House Republican's health-care reform plan would devastate funding for students, especially those with disabilities, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Thursday.
"It rips away health care; it undermines health care," Casey, D-Scranton, said of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would replace former President Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act.
The GOP's plan passed the House without any Democratic support and was sent to the Senate.
During a conference call with reporters, Casey blasted the AHCA for decimating Medicaid while giving "a huge tax cut" to the richest Americans.
"The Medicaid program is a program I'm going to defend with everything I have," said Casey.
In the Senate, where Republicans also hold the majority, an all-male working group of 13 GOP lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Lehigh County, have been tasked with formulating a health-care bill.
Casey said Pennsylvania schools could face up to 30 percent cuts to Medicaid reimbursements that would total $40.3 million, according to the latest 2014-15 data available from the state Department of Human Services.
That estimate is based on the nearly $135 million in Medicaid reimbursements received by Pennsylvania schools during the same school year.
Casey's office said schools use Medicaid to fund the School Based ACCESS program to cover health-related services to Medicaid-eligible children, including vision and hearing screenings, and services in students' special-education plans under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, such as physical therapy and mental health treatment.
Ambridge Area would be the hardest hit school district in Beaver County, according to the 2014-15 state data provided by Casey's office, with Medicaid cuts of nearly $65,500 based on $218,300 in reimbursements. Next would be the Big Beaver Falls Area with $62,800 in cuts and New Brighton Area with $59,400 in cuts.
Ellwood City Area's Medicaid reimbursements would be reduced by slightly more than $28,000. In northwest Allegheny County, Quaker Valley would see a $57,700 cut and Moon Area would be cut by $22,300.
Mark DiRocco, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said his group was "very concerned" about the AHCA and its proposed Medicaid cuts because funded services such as speech and language therapy are "vital to kids to allow them to fulfill their full potential."
DiRocco warned that school districts would have to raise property taxes and make cuts to regular-education programs to make up for the reductions to Medicaid and continue to serve students in need.
"That's not a scenario that anyone wants to see," he said.
A "back-door cut" to public education," DiRocco said, "could be devastating for children and families and school districts."
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