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Medicaid Cuts' Impact on WV School Health Care Cited

Medicaid supports much of the health-care provided in West Virginia schools. (Mary Kuhlman)
Medicaid supports much of the health-care provided in West Virginia schools. (Mary Kuhlman)
May 4, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Health care providers say a Republican bill that includes Medicaid cuts would threaten West Virginia's school health services.

Medicaid pays much of the cost for school nurses and therapists here, and for more than 50 school-based community clinics, many in rural areas.

One estimate is that the federal government provides more than $17.5 million for West Virginia school-based health care.

Craig Robinson, executive director of Cabin Creek Health Systems in Kanawha County, says given the state's huge budget problems, Republican plans to cut Medicaid would kill off much of that.

He calls that a tragedy because it's part of the smart work West Virginia has done connecting poor children and their families to health care providers.

"They become a part of the school, known to students, and they're trusted by the students and they're trusted by parents by dealing with preventive services, well-child visits and taking care of acute problems, but also mental health issues," he states.

The House's health care bill includes a plan to cut $840 billion from Medicaid nationally over a decade.

Speaker Paul Ryan argues the money would come with fewer strings, meaning the states would be able to do more with less money.

Robinson says that's a false promise. He says it's much more likely the state would be forced to cut what are classified as optional services, including care in the schools, and most especially treatment for substance abuse problems.

He says the GOP plan would roll back Medicaid expansion, which pays for almost all of substance abuse care.

"The Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is absolutely necessary to address the opioid addiction problem,” he points out. “Our school-based health centers do regular risk assessments with children, asking about use of drugs."

Robinson says West Virginia can be justly proud of the way it has used federal and state money to provide care that integrates into communities, which would otherwise be cut off.

He says Medicaid expansion has been a godsend to the state's struggling rural care providers, and to people who need substance abuse treatment. He says it would be wrong to reverse that.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV