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The Battle Over Medicaid Funding

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to put a hold on new Medicaid rules that would prevent schools from being reimbursed for providing certain services on behalf of some students with disabilities. But the Senate Republican leadership is urging its colleagues to reject the House measure, so the fight, for schools, is not over yet.

You'd know this already if you were on the e-mail list of the LEAnet, which describes itself as a "growing coalition of local education agencies dedicated to the protection and enhancement of school health programs." Gregory K. Morris, the executive director of the organization, has not let his keyboard cool off in days.

What does Medicaid have to do with schools? Since 1988, schools have been able to get reimbursement from the federal heath-insurance program for the poor for certain services provided to Medicaid-eligible kids with disabilities. Generally, these services would be for some types of therapies, like speech or occupational.

That's not changing. But what the administration would like to do is stop paying for certain administrative costs schools incur for managing the program, and transportation costs for getting a Medicaid-eligible child to school. That's not an appropriate Medicaid expense, the administration says. The change could save the government $3.6 billion over five years.

Schools officials, obviously, disagree. But the administration followed through on putting the new rules into effect--after a six-month moratorium to allow schools to prepare for the the change, the administration said. We're still in that six-month period, and as promised, school advocates are fighting hard to make sure those new rules never go into effect.

The House bill that was just passed would extend the moratorium until April 2009--well past election day. The thinking is that a new administration might have a more favorable stance on this issue, from the schools' point of view.

How will it turn out? Stay tuned...

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