Sunday, May 7, 2017

AHCA vs IDEA: Is The Right To An Education Now A Pre-Existing Condition? by Dr. Michael Flanagan

On May 4th, many of us watched in horror as the Republicans celebrated the potential deaths of Americans with a White House victory party commemorating the passage of the AHCA by the House of Representatives. Like a millionaire frat party, fists were pumped, smirking-faced selfies were taken, and there were even rumors of a beer party at the Capitol after the vote. As these interchangeable white men wallow in their privilege, once again the most vulnerable among us are being victimized by their greed: the poor, the sick, women, the elderly and the disabled. While millions stand to lose health insurance thanks to the avarice of our elected officials, one of the least discussed but most devastating effects of this law will be its impact on students with special needs.

The AHCA’s proposed cuts to Medicaid would directly affect the nearly $2.8 billion dollars of federal spending for special education students. This begs the question: Is the right to an education now a pre-existing condition?

Special education students are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975. IDEA and Medicare funding are directly linked in order to protect the 6.5 million students with disabilities in this country. Schools use Medicaid to pay for the health related services children with special needs require. These services include physical therapy, medical screenings, speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychological services and assistive technology.

The protections of IDEA have been consistently upheld in federal court, most recently last month with an 8-0 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District, continuing to guarantee students with disabilities the right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education. How long that will last with our new conservative justice Neil Gorsuch -- whose earlier lower court ruling was unanimously overturned by this decision -- remains to be seen.

But for now, IDEA remains the law of the land, and it seems the AHCA provides an obvious conflict with this mandate. If the federal funding for special education services is removed, then this is in direct violation of the student’s constitutional right to a free and appropriate public education. What are the legal ramifications when the AHCA and IDEA come into conflict? Which federal law will defeat the other in court?

It is clear that these representatives have played Russian roulette with the lives of Americans for nothing more than financial and political gain. Millions stand to lose healthcare coverage if the Senate does not block this potential act of genocide. With the House’s passage of the AHCA these political shills have sent a clear message: the lives of Americans are meaningless to them. But perhaps more than any other group, it is our special needs children who face the gravest peril. Our elected officials are seeking to not only deny them health insurance, but an education as well.   

Historically, the parents and teachers of special education students have been one of the most determined and effective advocacy groups. Yet again we must be the last line of defense against these sociopaths, fighting to make sure our special needs students are not cast aside like so much trash. The politicians may think they can get away with bankrupting our children’s futures for millionaire tax cuts, but they are wrong. They will need to get through us first.

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