martes, 4 de julio de 2017

Red-state school leaders vent frustrations with GOP health bill

They say Medicaid funding cuts would hamper their ability to serve low-income and special education students.


While Republican leaders were forced to pull a procedural vote due to the lack of support, Mitch McConnell is hoping to find agreement on a new draft. | AP Photo

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s health care bill is getting failing grades from red-state school leaders — even in his home state of Kentucky.

Fleming County Schools Superintendent Brian Creasman was taken aback when he discovered the bill would make cuts that could devastate his ability to provide health services to needy and disabled kids.

Here in rural Kentucky, the heart of Trump country where three out of four voters cast ballots for Donald Trump and many regard McConnell as their political protector, Creasman initially thought the bill’s potential cuts to school districts must be a misunderstanding.

Only they weren’t.

About $4 billion in annual Medicaid spending goes to U.S. schools to pay for school nurses, physical, occupational and speech therapists, and school-based screenings and treatment for children from low-income families, as well as wheelchairs and even buses to transport kids with special needs.

The funds make up just 1 percent of Medicaid reimbursements, but school leaders in economically depressed parts of Appalachia, the Rust Belt and elsewhere say they are critical to providing services they are required to provide to special education students. Creasman said he’s seen firsthand how mental health services funded by Medicaid have connected families to help at a time when his state is struggling with an opioid addiction crisis.

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“I wonder what the senators think is going to happen?” Creasman said. “Do they think everything is just going to go away? It doesn’t. … What happens is we either have to cut something or increase taxes.”

Creasman is joining scores of other school superintendents — many, like him, from red states critical to Trump’s presidential victory — in writing letters and making calls.

The school leaders have become an unexpected and forceful voice opposing the deep Medicaid cuts in the Senate’s health care bill. AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is organizing what it estimates could be thousands of letters and emails to senators.

And there are signs they may be getting traction with Republican lawmakers who have been on the fence.

Joseph J. Roy, a superintendent in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who was that state's 2017 superintendent of the year, joined Democratic Sen. Bob Casey at a recent news conference to highlight what a reduction in the annual $600,000 his district receives in Medicaid funding would mean.

“It’s a major impact on us, and it’s kids who are most vulnerable,” Roy told POLITICO. “They have mental health issues or physical issues that require assistance, and they are the ones that receive services.”

“It just seems completely wrong,” Roy said.

Sasha Pudelski, assistant director for policy and advocacy with the superintendents group, said some Republican senators' offices have heard from so many people connected to the effort that they’re getting angry about it, asking for it stop.

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