COLUMBUS (WCMH) — If you are lucky, your family might never need the services of the Ohio Bureau of Children with Medical Handicaps. But, if your family is one of the 40,000 in Ohio now using its services, you likely believe that you are blessed that it is there when you need it.

BCMH is an outgrowth of a program started by the state back in 1919, to meet the needs of families of children with polio.  Today BCMH provides a range of medical services, supporting families who have children with developmental and physical challenges, linking families to a network of providers and helping to pay for services not covered by insurance.

“It’s a vital safety net for middle-class families,” according to Elizabeth O’Leary, whose four-year-old daughter Alice suffered a stroke a birth.  Elizabeth and her husband are working parents with medical insurance, but say insurance covers only a fraction of the services her daughter needs – and will continue to need for years to come.

But, BCMH is operating in the red and has a budget shortfall of $11 million. Claims are outpacing the budget. Additionally, the Kasich administration has a philosophical objection to the Ohio Department of Health operating as a service provider. As a result, the Governor’s budget proposal for the 2018-2019 fiscal year calls for big changes to BCMH.

The criteria for Medicaid eligibility would be expanded to 225% of the federal poverty limit.  That would make at least half the families currently receiving BCMH services eligible for Medicaid.

State officials tell me the other families currently receiving BCMH would stay on the program.  But, if state lawmakers approve the proposed changes, as of July 1st, any medically fragile child born in Ohio, whose parents do not meet the Medicaid poverty criteria for BCMH (225% of the federal poverty level), will no longer be eligible for BCMH services. “We’re strong parents, but there aren’t some strong parents out there and these diagnoses will knock them to their knees and they may not be strong enough to figure it out” said O’Leary.

O’Leary and two other mothers met with me to talk about their concerns about the proposed changes to BCMH and what those changes will mean to families, some of whom are likely pregnant right now with a child who will have medical challenges.  “We’re hard workers, we’re successful, we’re educated and we can’t afford this disability that’s come into our lives” says Sarah Bloom Anderson.  Her daughter has cerebral palsy and a brain abnormality and right now sees seven different specialists and makes multiple trips to Nationwide Children’s Hospital each week.     AND, Carrie Gutkowski says the services provided by BCMH are vital to the development of her son, and will hopefully lead him to a life of independence.  She says  “if it’s a financial decision, it’s the wrong one.  From a humanitarian perspective, these are the most vulnerable members of our society, disabled babies.  If there’s a population that deserves our support that’s it.”

No one from the Governor’s office, the Ohio Department of Health or Medicaid would appear on camera to answer questions.  But, they did send this:

Below is a joint statement attributable to the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Medicaid:

Proposed changes to the Children with Medical Handicaps program aim to improve quality of care for Ohio’s most vulnerable children and their families. Building on the Ohio Department of Medicaid’s strong foundation of clinical expertise and care management, the proposal seamlessly integrates existing benefits for children with medical handicaps with Ohio Medicaid programs. Additionally, this proposal ensures a sustainable funding source exists in the future to support children and families with the greatest needs, minimizes disruption to those currently receiving services by allowing non-Medicaid eligible participants to stay in the existing program, and ensures care coordination and all medically necessary services will continue to be provided for those on Medicaid and those who meet the new program’s financial eligibility criteria above the Medicaid threshold.

They also provided links to frequently asked questions about BCMH.Children with Medicaid Handicaps Proposal Fact SheetChildren with Medicaid Handicaps Proposal FAQ