During the month of March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), and National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) raised awareness of accessibility and inclusion for people with developmental disabilities in education, health care, and the workforce. But Republicans have moved full speed ahead with their proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make drastic cuts to Medicaid.
These changes would undermine the health of our nation’s children and students. The consequences of these attacks will be far-reaching, jeopardizing not only the health of children, but also their potential. Make no mistake – these attacks could threaten children’s ability to thrive in the classroom and beyond.
As a result of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, approximately 95 percent of America’s children now have health coverage – an extraordinary accomplishment and a historically high rate. Along with this dramatic increase in coverage, the ACA also strengthened benefits and protections for children that allow them to be healthier kids and better students.
For example, the ACA improved access to pediatric vision screenings and care. It has been estimated that as much as 80 percent of the learning a child does occurs through his or her eyes, so expanding pediatric vision coverage is vital so that children can learn. The ACA also ensures that health plans cover mental health services, which can lead to safer schools and enhanced learning in the classroom. We know that left unmet, mental health problems are linked to costly negative outcomes, such as academic and behavior problems, delinquency, and dropping out.
Medicaid is another vital tool that supports the health and success of the nation’s children. It is estimated that states received nearly $2 billion in federal Medicaid funding for school-based services in 2015. Almost 40 percent of children receive health care services through Medicaid, and approximately 69 percent of school districts with school-based Medicaid programs use those funds to pay for service personnel.
Medicaid also supports students who are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Students with disabilities are legally entitled to receive services that allow them to have meaningful access to education. These services may include health screenings; vision and hearing screenings; transportation; and direct services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychological services, and speech and language therapy. The need for these services was emphasized in the recent Supreme Court decision in Endrew v. Douglas County School District, which confirmed this week that schools must provide a substantial education benefit to students with disabilities.
Despite the need for Medicaid services in schools, Republicans are proposing to limit the amount of funding states can receive for these vital services. Cuts to Medicaid in the proposed American Health Care Act threaten school-based services and will put the growth and education of children at risk.
A recent survey of nearly 1,000 school district leaders found that cuts in Medicaid would greatly impact their ability to provide special education services and health screenings in schools. Several leaders suggested that a dramatic cut in funding would result in layoffs of personnel primarily supported through Medicaid reimbursements. Many of the leaders also suggested cuts in Medicaid funding would severely impact their ability to provide much needed mental health services.
We cannot expect children to learn and grow into healthy, productive adults who are capable of succeeding in the 21st century economy if we don’t provide them with the necessary tools to be healthy children. We have a choice to make: do we want to go forward or do we want to go backward?
The ACA “repeal” initiative contains policy options that take us back to a time when children’s lack of access to health coverage could stunt their ability to thrive in the classroom. I stand firmly behind protecting Medicaid and the progress of the ACA, not the alternative choice that will put our children’s health at risk.
Scott is Congressman from Virginia’s 3rd District and Ranking Member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce.