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Texas Supreme Court Halts Children's Therapy Cuts

Texas Tribune
Texas Supreme Court building.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday delivered a temporary, last-minute victory to families of children with disabilities who want to stop sweeping budget cuts to a state-funded children’s therapy program.

State lawmakers last year approved $350 million in budget cuts for Medicaid programs that provide physical, speech and occupational therapy to disabled children. Blocked once before by a district court order, the cuts were scheduled to take effect July 15 after an appellate court ruled in April that Texas could move forward with them.

The Supreme Court’s order will delay those cuts, which have been tied up in court for nearly a year, once again.

The disabled children’s families, joined by therapy providers who are paid by Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, sued the state over the pay cut, saying it would force medically necessary businesses to close and leave fragile children without access to health care.

Texas lawmakers ordered the cuts arguing that the state overpaid for those services. Many in-home therapy providers who treat children covered by Medicaid say the payment reduction would amount to a roughly 20 percent revenue cut that would force them out of business.

In the year since the budget was passed, dozens of lawmakers who voted for it have asked Texas officials to delay the cuts in order to study their projected effects more closely, for fear the move would jeopardize children’s access to health care.

The Supreme Court’s temporary injunction is not a ruling on the validity of the Medicaid cuts, but it buys time for the groups opposing the cuts to continue their aggressive lobbying campaign to have lawmakers revisit the issue.

Seventy-five state lawmakers — 61 Democrats and 14 Republicans — have written to state and federal health officials in recent weeks to express concerns about the Medicaid cuts.

The groups suing the state said they were overjoyed with the high court's order.

"Our plaintiffs, particularly the parents of these children, are extremely grateful to the Supreme Court of Texas for their quick action which means that life-saving therapy remains available to our most vulnerable children," spokesman Chuck McDonald said in a statement.

“It would be impossible to overstate how significant it is that this injunction remains in place," he said.

Edgar Walters is a reporter with the Texas Tribune.