MANCHESTER, N.H. —
Sen. Maggie Hassan warned Thursday that big Medicaid cuts in the Republican health care bill and President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would, if enacted, either severely diminish services for disabled students or downshift costs to school districts.
The New Hampshire Democrat said on a conference call that based on methodology used by The School Superintendents Association, a national group, she and her staff analyzed how the more than $800 billion – or 30 percent – overall cut in Medicaid Trump has proposed would affect the amount of Medicaid dollars directed to helping districts meet the cost of programs for students with disabilities.
She said New Hampshire received $29 million in Medicaid funding for schools last year, and, if the Trump administration’s propose cuts are enacted, state school districts “stand to lose a minimum of $8.7 million. And that number could grow to be significantly higher.”
“With just the minimum cuts that we’re seeing from Congress, the Manchester school district could lose roughly $500,000. The Nashua school district could lose out on over $650,000,” she said.
Her office released a list of each school district in the state, showing fiscal 2016 Medicaid reimbursement amounts and how much each district would lose under a 30 percent cut.
An official of a conservative issues advocacy group termed Hassan’s warning “a scare tactic.”
Greg Moore, director of Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, said Hassan was assuming that state officials have no ability — or no desire — to meet the needs of disabled students under what he called a more flexible system.
“Giving the states the flexibility to design their own Medicaid program is exactly what is needed,” said Moore, who was director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services from 2003 to 2007.
“When you give states their own flexibility, they can pick and choose their priorities,” he said. “But people like Sen. Hassan feel a need to have a command-and-control, Washington-based program. When states have an opportunity to design their own programs, they can do it so much more efficiently and get the right care to the right people.
“I have faith in the governor of New Hampshire – any governor — and the Legislature to design a program to meet the needs of New Hampshire citizens.”
Hassan said the GOP health care bill says that states “would no longer have to consider their schools as eligible Medicaid providers.” But the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Act to provide special education services remain intact, she said.
Hassan’s office provided data from the state Department of Education showing that in 2014, 15.5 percent of New Hampshire students had disabilities.
“With the massive Medicaid cuts, states are going to have limited dollars, and one way to balance it is to say that ‘Trumpcare’ says that schools can be excluded as Medicaid providers, which allows the state to further downshift these costs to the schools so they can pay other bills with the limited Medicaid dollars.”
Hassan said, “If you have less resources for Medicaid, school districts would then be faced with cutting other services, including school nurses, behavioral health services, health screenings, equipment and supplies, and after-school programs.
“The legal requirement would be there, but there would be much less federal help to do it. When the IDEA was passed, the feds said they would compensate school districts for 40 percent, but it never got close.”
Dr. Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, who joined Hassan on the conference call, said districts “may have to cut teachers and entire academic programs to make up for the loss of Medicaid funding.”
Mike Skibbie, policy director of the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire, said the center has “fought to ensure that young people who experience disabilities have access to a quality public education.
“Medicaid funding to school districts is a very important part of making that access possible, providing support to students with disabilities so that they can be fully integrated into the classroom and succeed just like their peers,” he said.
“This is about more than empathy, or more than charity,” Hassan said. “It’s about whether we are going to ensure that people who experience disabilities, or who have chronic illness, have equal justice and that they are fully included in their homes and in their schools and have equal rights as a result.”
Moore responded, “In Sen. Hassan’s world, we live in a box and the choices are more spending versus putting people on the streets. It doesn’t have to be that way.
“Unless Sen. Hassan feels that the governor and Legislature of New Hampshire are going to completely turn their backs on disabled students in our schools, then this is a more of a scare tactic than actual policy.”