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As feds consider Medicaid cuts, state pursues $48 million for school nurses

School services

Georgia health officials may go after $48.6 million in federal health care funding for schools even as threatened Medicaid cuts in the Obamacare replacement could undermine school budgets.

The Department of Community Health board will vote next month on a plan to harness Medicaid to pay for more nurses in schools.

The agency, working with state school Superintendent Richard Woods, realized Georgia schools had been leaving the federal money on the table. The funding matches dollars the state is already spending. In May, the state school board voted to pursue the funding, which, said Woods, would allow Georgia to “basically double” the number of school nurses in what he described as “a big game changer” for student health.

The move comes as Georgia and other states face cuts to Medicaid that would reduce health care available to many children at home while shifting other health care costs to local education budgets.

The proposed cuts contained in the American Health Care Act target schools directly by reducing the amount of money available for speech therapy, occupational therapy, medical equipment and other special education services, which are required -- yet only partially funded -- by Congress.

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School districts would have to pay for the federal cuts by cutting their own budgets elsewhere or by raising local taxes, notes Claire Suggs, an analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute: “Federal law requires districts to provide these services, so the cost shifts but doesn’t go away.”

She said the federal health care proposal working through Congress also would reduce the money available for health services to about half of the state’s 1.3 million children who rely on Medicaid, raising the possibility that they’ll go to school with chronic illnesses and untreated problems, such as poor vision, that can place an extra burden on teachers and, thus, the rest of the classroom.

It’s unclear how much money Georgia stands to lose, but Georgia got more than $30 million in such federal funding in 2015, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

That’s less than the $48.6 million the state could win for nurses, but that additional money would have to pay for more nurses and couldn’t be shifted to cover special education costs.

The Department of Community Health board is expected to vote on that deal on July 13. The board is taking public comment until Thursday.

  • Send written statements by mail to P.O. Box 1966, Atlanta, Georgia 30301-1966,
  • by email to Danisha Williams, danwilliams@dch.ga.gov, or
  • by fax to 404-651-6880.

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