The Associated Press March 31, 2011, 8:04AM ET

Health care advocates protest cuts at Capitol

Teresa Little needs Texas Medicaid services if she doesn't want to lose her granddaughter to a devastating degenerative disease she says is lethal combination of muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and cancer all rolled into one.

But a state House budget slated for a vote within days would severely cut health care funding for the state's poorest citizens, including children.

Little, who has permanent custody of her grandchildren, spoke to hundreds of health care advocates rallying at the Capitol Wednesday and warned that cuts of such magnitude will have disastrous consequences for the state's children.

"Each day, we see another piece of her die," Little said, standing by her granddaughter, who sat in a wheelchair. "I was literally sickened when I heard about the proposed health care cuts. We won't have any health care options left. On behalf of the millions of Texas children on Medicaid, I implore you to please leave our Medicaid alone."

Holding signs with pictures of children and chanting "kids not cuts," protesters said that cuts to the state-federal health program for the poor and a key children's health program in the state would be devastating for Texas youth and poisonous to their futures.

The House budget includes a 10 percent reduction to doctors and hospitals that treat children covered by Medicaid. That's a cut health care advocates say can't be absorbed in a state that already leads the nation with the largest number of uninsured children.

"That's not a good report card for the state of Texas," Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, told the crowd. "Now is not the time for us to balance the budget on the backs of our children, and that's literally what we're doing."

Providers say the budget actually amounts to a 30 percent loss in revenue for them since the state will also lose billions of dollars in federal matching funds.

Children from one end of Texas to the other will be deserted when doctors go out of business or withdraw from the Medicaid program because they can't sustain the cuts. Without health insurance, children will pile into emergency rooms for treatment.

"Medicaid has meant a lot to our family and taken care of our son," said Michael Ayala, who traveled from Corpus Christi with his wife. "If they start cutting these programs, it will put a huge hole in our pocket."

The budget approved by the appropriations committee last week looks disturbingly similar to the initial draft released in January that sent waves of despair and panic throughout all areas of state services. This bare-bones budget attempts to plug a revenue shortfall that could reach $27 billion through cuts alone and no new taxes.

Lawmakers on the committee did overrule initial conservative opposition to tapping the state's rainy day fund by proposing a plan to draw 3.2 billion out of the fund to close a deficit in the 2011 budget. The House is scheduled to consider that bill Thursday before the full budget debate on Friday.

Dan Stultz, president and CEO of Texas Hospital Association, said the budget will cut rural hospitals too deep to survive. And for the hospitals that do keep operating, they will likely stop services that are not as profitable, including ambulances and prenatal care. Lawmakers will be cutting prenatal care for tens of thousands of poor women under the bill.

Although the budget senators are still hammering out is considerably more generous to health services than the House version, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said it will still contain draconian cuts that will impact the state's most vulnerable citizens.

In 2003, when the state was facing a smaller shortfall, more than 200,000 children were kicked off of the Children's Health Insurance Program. With the state now facing a much more massive budget crisis, parents say they can't imagine what it will mean for their children and their families.

"What people in the Capitol need to know is that for many families living on the margins of life, we are talking about life and death decisions," Turner, who vice chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said. "We are chopping off the future of the state of Texas and saying we don't value our children."


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