The state is on the financial hook for a growing number of businesses providing help to “medically fragile” children, so officials ought to keep an eye on the growth of a new program that has risen rapidly in cost over the last four years.
The four-year-old state Medicaid program is aimed at helping “medically fragile” children, those who are disabled and can use specialized services at day care facilities that go beyond what is available at schools or regular day care.
All well and good, in fact commendable, but the cost of the program has ballooned from $2 million to as much as $30 million this year.
While the Pediatric Day Health Care program is pretty small potatoes in terms of the multi-billion-dollar Medicaid budget, the state is right to watch out that serving deserving kids does not cross over the line into a booming new market niche for federal and state dollars. So far, officials told legislators this year, the program is offering nearly 700 children these services.
Common sense suggests that these services are probably godsends to families of modest means who have children with great needs.
The legislators balked at the notion, pushed earlier by the Department of Health and Hospitals, to curtail the program. Still, we commend the officials who are keeping an eye on the taxpayers’ interests here.
“We have more pediatric day health care centers in this state than the whole state of Florida does. We have providers opening them left and right. We’ve got them beating down the door trying to get into this program. Just on the surface that causes all kinds of red flags,” Jeff Reynolds, chief financial officer for the state health department, told lawmakers recently.
Going slowly on this new expense should not be seen as harmful to children, nor should it be burdensome for providers to show that the services are needed. DHH is looking at admissions criteria for the program, and nurses were assigned to review the cases of children currently in the pediatric centers.
Children under the age of 21 can receive physical therapy, speech therapy, education programs, nursing care and other assistance at the facilities.
Providers told legislators that the program funds centers that help sick children, and not places for the recipients to be merely “parked” during the day. As long as the program provides services that children legitimately need, we expect that DHH and lawmakers should support providers. But accountability is never more important than in health care, where the well-being of children is concerned.