Medicaid Reform Raises Concerns For Parents Of Child With Special Needs

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KFSM)—A legislative committee has put a limit on mental health benefits for people using Medicaid, and more cuts are expected in the near future.

Jessica Skordal said she is worried because the cutbacks could affect the treatments for her autistic child. Her 3-year-old son Dawson was diagnosed in February.

“Dawson's a twin, so I have a walking talking example of what a normal child should be,” Skordal said. "So that's when I really started noticing that his twin brother Jackson was doing things just a lot differently than he was."

In June, Skordal and her husband discovered No Limits Pediatric Therapy in Bentonville. They determined Dawson needed more hours in physical, occupational and speech therapy. Now he spends three hours, four days a week at No Limits and one day a week with a developmental therapist.

“Since then my son’s improvement is incredible,” she said. “He can speak to me for the first time. He's showing emotion. He's a happier child.”

Rep. Charlie Collins is the co-chair of a task force that’s making recommendations for changes to the Medicaid Program. So far the Legislative Healthcare Reform Task Force has made cuts in the nursing home industry and group psychotherapy for mental health patients.

“Prior to the rule that just passed on Friday [Sept. 30], there were no limits,” Collins said. “You could have as many psychotherapy sessions in a year that could be provided.”

Collins said the new limits on sessions will save the state about $100 million over the next five years.

“The sessions could last 1.5 hours, and the new rule says that can have up to one hour per day for 25 sessions,” he said.

“The way that special needs parents work is that a lot of times our private insurance doesn't cover everything, and so we can apply for something called TEFRA, which is a Medicaid supplemental insurance,” Skordal said.

She said the task force is proposing similar limitations for the types of pediatric therapy her son needs. She said Dawson would lose more than a third of his hours if this were to pass.

“Stopping that process at 3 years old will no doubt be very detrimental to my son,” Skordal said.

Rep. Collins said those changes are part of a larger DHS package, which is currently in public comment period. If passed, the plan would be implemented by mid-July.

“I would expect that as long as we're communicating well with each other, people that need services, need essential services will continue to get them,” he said.

Rep. Collins said the task force’s goal is to reduce Medicaid spending by $835 million dollars.

Anyone in need of more sessions than allotted can be accommodated by having their healthcare provider make a written request. That would ultimately be approved or denied by Beacon Health.