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Medicaid “Optional” Benefits in Peril

Medicaid lists physical therapy as an “optional” service. (Roger Mommaerts/Flickr)
Medicaid lists physical therapy as an “optional” service. (Roger Mommaerts/Flickr)
July 10, 2017

NEW YORK – As the U.S. Senate takes up its health care bill again this week, advocates for people with disabilities are concerned that cuts to Medicaid could limit benefits that provide critical care.

The Republican Party’s plan unveiled before the July 4 recess would cut Medicaid funds to New York by $7 billion over four years.

According to Heidi Siegfried, director of health policy at Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, that could force the state to consider cutting benefits and services that Medicaid refers to as "optional."

"Rehab – like physical therapy, occupational and speech therapy – that is one New York cut five or six years ago,” she points out. “Prosthetic devices, durable medical equipment, like wheelchairs."

Though the number of Republican senators saying they won't support the GOP bill has grown, Siegfried fears the alternative that will emerge is likely to include deep cuts to Medicaid as well.

Services that make independent living possible also could be cut. Currently, Medicaid requires states to cover nursing home care, which Siegfried notes is very expensive and often contributes to declines in patient health.

"Services to keep people from going into a nursing home – like personal care aides and the services that you would need to continue to live in your own home – those are optional," she points out.

Siegfried explains that "mandatory" and "optional" are statutory terms that don't reflect medical necessity, but may influence decision-making.

Polling shows a majority of Republicans think of Medicaid as a "welfare program" rather than a health insurance program.

But Siegfried points out that Medicaid covers children as well as adults, and is especially critical for older New Yorkers and those with disabilities.

"We have to get people to understand that this is not just a program that serves low-income people, that it serves middle class people that have high needs," she stresses.


Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY