State funds for child therapy programs have fallen nearly $20M since 2011

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Adriana Peek remembers what went through her mind a year ago as she was taking care of her son Nathan.

“As a mom, I just knew something was not quite like with my other son so when the diagnosis came, we had already worked so hard with so many therapists that I just knew I was in good hands,” Peek said.

Doctors diagnosed Nathan with cerebral palsy. Peek says the state helps Nathan with getting Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services from Any Baby Can.

“They have been able to walk with me hand-in-hand and just help me with therapists – speech therapy, occupational therapy and also physical therapy,” said a grateful Peek.

A new Texans Care for Children report says state budget cuts have left kids missing out on these services.

State appropriations for ECI have fallen nearly $20 million between fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2018, according to the report. It also says between 2011 and 2016, ECI enrollment in Northeast Texas fell by 23 percent even though the region’s population of young children remained flat.

In the regular session, a quarter of the Medicaid reimbursement rate cuts from 2015 were restored. During the special session in August, the Texas House unanimously called for reversing all the Medicaid reimbursement rate cuts to these services, but there was no action taken on this issue by the governor or the Texas Senate.

One of the interim charges by House Speaker Joe Straus is related to examining the ECI program in the state, including a review of historical funding levels, programmatic changes, challenges providers face within the program and utilization trends. Straus has charged the House Committee on Appropriations to also examine ECI’s impact on reducing the long-term costs of public education and healthcare, as well as identifying solutions to strengthen the program.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R – Lubbock, said the legislature should take input from stakeholders and find a way to strengthen the program. 

“ECI levels the playing field for children that didn’t even know they were in the game,” Perry said in an emailed statement.

Perry said while money isn’t the answer for all the problems, “ECI is worthy of financial support along with all the other financial responsibilities the state faces.”

Numbers from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission show a slight increase in the average monthly served when comparing the periods between June-August of fiscal year 2016 and fiscal year 2017. Nearly 28,000 were served during that three-month period in fiscal year 2016 and almost 29,000 in fiscal year 2017.

Recommendations from Texans Care for Children include ensuring ECI contractors have the financial and other resources to remain in the program while being financially sustainable and reversing the Medicaid therapy rate cuts from 2015.

Peek calls the therapists who work with her and Nathan her family. She said they’ve helped him develop functional abilities.

“Today he sits,” she said. “Today he can grab a spoon.”

A spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says there are 44 providers serving the entire state. Three contractors recently left the program, but the agency says replacement contractors are in place for every year.

“We worked quickly to secure replacement contractors so children can have access to the services they need in their communities,” Kelli Weldon, assistant press officer, said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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