Parents rally in Tampa against proposed Medicaid cuts for special needs therapy

AHCA announces rate changes 'postponed'
Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-05 18:16:25-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- Parents are furious after proposed state cuts on Medicaid. Professionals are warning that therapists who work with special needs children will be forced to drop them.

Chants of "our families matter!" and signs filled up the lawn in front of the North Dale Mabry Highway location of the Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA.

“I started crying. She [daughter] was upset for two days, she was crying. It’s bad," said Julie Dang. She fears her daughter will end up losing much-needed care.

The agency proposed cuts to reimbursement rates including an eye-raising, 51-percent cut for registered behavior technicians.

“Behavioral analysts and companies would be forced to drop Medicaid patients," said Ann Saksefski, a board-certified behavioral analyst.

It could mean patients like Tyanna Tran, Dang's daughter, who can never go unsupervised. Tran has a genetic disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome.

“It’s a food-hoarding disorder so she’ll eat out of the trash, off the floor, she’ll eat out of the bathroom she eats raw meat," Dang said.

Losing supervision would mean pulling her out of college, her lifelong dream.

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For others with more violent behavioral symptoms, Saksefski said the outcome could mean family separation.

“They could wind up being taken out of homes, they could wind up in jails, in hospitals being Baker Acted," she said.

AHCA's public meeting to break down the changes was met with a packed room.

“Sorry, but we are totally full we can’t just let everyone in," an AHCA staff member told a line of waiting protesters. The room was at full capacity.

The proposed changes come after the state discovered fraud in Medicaid's behavioral analysis therapy program last year. An investigation showed the contractor that previously managed the program failed to catch fraudulent billing and other issues involving more than 100 vendors. Losses to taxpayers are believed to be in the millions of dollars.

In the packed room, AHCA Assistant Deputy Secretary Shevaun Harris took the podium and extended an olive branch.

“We want to get it right and we are putting the pause button on that particular change and we are not moving forward at this time," she said.

After one public meeting in Tallahassee on March 29, AHCA decided to postpone the rate cuts. The agency sent out a Medicaid Health Care Alert to providers and said this:

"Our agency is working to ensure that BA services are provided in a way that ensures that each child is receiving the right service, from the right provider, at the right time. Based on feedback we have received to date, we will be postponing any behavior analysis rate changes. We will continue to seek feedback and data from providers to review the rates."

“We are not doing this in a vacuum," Harris said. "We have not scheduled all these meetings to just go forward and make changes without your feedback.”

The announcement didn’t stop parents from speaking out and warning of the impact of this proposal, should AHCA move forward. Dang tells ABC Action News she is not sold on the postponement and calls it a “stall tactic.”