State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said he sent two U.S. Senators a letter announcing his opposition to changes proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives in the American Health Care Act that could endanger funding for school-based health services.
The bill includes a per-state cap on spending for Medicaid, the federal program that funds health care for low-income people and families, and is referred to as Medi-Cal in California. The proposed funding limits mean states will have less money to support the benefits and services outlined in their Medicaid plans, including assistance for Medicaid-eligible children who receive health care at schools.
School-based services include medical supplies such as feeding tubes for disabled children, vision and hearing screenings, and funding for school health aides.
“It is highly likely that schools and districts would bear an increased responsibility for covering the costs of these services, placing additional pressure on already-strained budgets,” Torlakson said in a letter to U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Patty Murray (D-Washington), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. “Removing Medicaid funding for such services and equipment would present a significant hardship for many schools and students.”
Torlakson, a former science teacher and track and cross-country coach, has put a top priority on ensuring that students come to school ready to learn, which means they are healthy, eat nutritious food, and engage in regular exercise. This legislation could undermine those efforts.
“Students need to have access to health care so they can come to school healthy, and ready to learn and succeed,” he said. “This legislation may reduce access to health care for our students.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to amend the Affordable Care Act in early May, and the legislation is currently in the Senate.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to assist special education students has already been historically underfunded, and the American Health Care Act could jeopardize services even more, Torlakson said.
A lack of preventive care and screenings could create long-term costs for states. For example, vision and hearing screenings can identify students who need eyeglasses or hearing assistance so they can pay attention and succeed in class. Reducing screening will hurt those students and require expensive remediation later in the students’ school years.
“Taking away any of these services could be devastating to individual students as well as to classrooms and schools as a whole,” Torlakson said.
Torlakson urged the Senators to preserve the current Medicaid funding structure and maintain services to eligible children.