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April 13, 2021

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Schools fear impact of proposed Medicaid cuts

Children from low-income families could be disproportionately harmed, officials say

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:

Medicaid cuts included in House and Senate Republicans’ proposed Affordable Care Act replacement bills could disproportionately harm children from low-income families, according to Vancouver Public Schools.

As the U.S. Senate appears poised to vote on its version of the health care bill Thursday, school officials are letting Washington’s congressional delegation know about the direct impact Medicaid rollbacks could have on students. Districts receive Medicaid money in the form of reimbursements, meaning when a student whose family qualifies for Medicaid receives health services at the school — like access to speech therapists, psychologists or occupational therapists — the district can receive federal dollars to cover the cost. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees students access to these services, though education advocacy groups and districts say the special education mandate is underfunded by the federal government.

The area’s largest districts receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursements every year. Vancouver Public Schools receives about $250,000 in Medicaid reimbursements. Evergreen Public Schools receives $150,000 to $200,000 and Battle Ground receives about $150,000.

“All available resources are important, especially in special education,” said Gavin Hottman, chief business officer for Educational Service District 112. “The state and federal government have not provided adequate funding so you have the need for local contributions in order to meet the service needs.”

Medicaid cuts could exacerbate that shortage, affecting between 2,000 and 2,500 of the district’s students, Vancouver Public Schools’ letter states.

The House version of the American Health Care Act is estimated to make more than $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid spending. Details about the Senate bill, which has been crafted behind closed doors, are murky, but The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a circulating draft shows Medicaid cuts could go further than the House version by tying federal spending on the program to a slower growth index. That could cause states to reduce Medicaid programs, according to the newspaper.

That could force districts to tap into their local school levy funding to provide these mandatory services — at a time when the Washington state Legislature is grappling with how to reduce districts’ overreliance on levy dollars for basic education under the McCleary decision.

“These cuts, therefore, would undermine the ability of VPS to offer high-quality instructional programming to all 24,000 of the young people we serve,” according to the letter.

Vancouver Chief of Staff Tom Hagley pointed to the district’s high population of low-income families. According the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 50.1 percent of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the highest rate in Clark County.

“This is just heaping more of a challenge disproportionately on those families,” Hagley said.

Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are both Democrats and outspoken critics of Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“The secret health care bill that Republicans are desperately working to jam through Congress would be devastating for students, families, and communities in Southwest Washington and across our state and country,” Murray said in a statement. “I am standing with local families and doing everything I can to fight back, and I am hoping Republicans reverse course and work with me to truly reduce health care costs, improve quality, and increase access to care.”

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, voted no on the House version approved in March, citing concerns in a statement about the impact Medicaid reductions could have on children.

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