Trump’s new health care bill would mean major cuts to local schools

Greg Drescher

As the Senate prepares to vote as early as next week on President Trump’s new health care bill, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine released a report Wednesday on how its proposed cuts are going to affect Virginia schools.

The report shows that in Virginia alone more than $32 million will be cut from school-based Medicaid services.

“In Virginia, our children and schools would be the largest demographic hurt by Republican plans to cut Medicaid as part of the TrumpCare bill,” Kaine, a Democrat, stated in the news release. “Sixty percent of those on Medicaid and CHIP in the Commonwealth are children, and I have heard from teachers, parents, and school officials who are terrified by what these cuts could mean for their students and their families. Medicaid enables many kids to go to school, plain and simple. It shocks me that some people say that cutting these programs would end a dependence on these programs, when these programs are the thing that allow our students to be independent and thrive in the classroom. We will, and should, be judged by how we treat our children and I will not cast aside the most vulnerable members of our society to give a tax break to the wealthy.”

Warren, Frederick and Shenandoah counties alone stand to lose almost $600,000 in Medicaid reimbursements, with Warren losing $167,000, Frederick losing $160,000 and Shenandoah County losing $266,000.

Greg Drescher, superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, stated in an email, “Warren County Public Schools has received, on average, $125,000 to $250,000 per year in Medicaid reimbursements for services provided by school personnel.

Mark Johnston

“In addition to those services, we also have programs running in our schools that are paid for primarily with Medicaid funds. A visiting dentist program and a therapeutic day treatment program. Both of these programs impact many of our students. IF there are cuts to Medicaid and it impacts these programs we would either have to find funding elsewhere or stop providing those services.”

Mark Johnston, superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools, explained that students with disabilities would  suffer the most if the cuts are made.

“Typically the funding we get through Medicaid is to provide services to students with disabilities,” Johnston said. “One of those services we’re able to bill for speech language services. Next year we have a plan for a full-time speech language pathologist because our speech language path job has gotten so much more complex. We’re seeing a big uptick in students with other health impairments, meaning it’s not a single area of disability, and so a lot of times, speech language services are provided in addition to whatever other services we provide.”

According to Johnston, other services such as nurses, therapeutic day treatment counselors, transportation assistants and others are the ones who will be heavily impacted if the bill is passed. And that impact, he said, could lead to the loss of quality employees.

“Your employees can only work so hard,” Johnston said. “So if you lost the funding, had to still provide the services and you load up your people, then what ends up happening is they leave and you’re forced to contract out those services at a much higher cost. It just defies logic to me why you would cut Medicaid and run the risk of adding to the overall expense of localities and individuals.”

Johnston doesn’t see these cuts happening right away, but more will come when schools have a chance plan their 2019 budgets. But if it does hit during the upcoming school year,  some big decisions will have to be made, Johnston explained.

“It could range from going back to the county and requesting some additional funding to cover that gap or it could be that we could identify some savings in our own budget,” Johnston said.

Johnston pointed out that despite such potentially big changes to local schools, people who deal with children’s education on a day to day basis had no say in what was being cut from the health care bill.

“When major changes come about that have such far-reaching consequences to the most at-risk members of our community, to not even have opportunities to have input in the process or any kind of discussion, whether it’s through your professional organization or people who follow and watch these things and advocate on your behalf, that’s just disgraceful,” Johnston said. “That’s just very disappointing that there will be very little input into any of this, and unfortunately the consequences of any kind of change is that the families most in need of the services are going to be the first to lose the services. That defies logic and any form of compassion.”