PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Rule changes recently made by the state Board of Education Standards will result in less travel reimbursement paid to direct-service providers and possibly more use of teletherapy in South Dakota’s Birth to 3 program that assists youngsters who have developmental delays or disabilities.

South Dakota Office of Early Childhood Services administrator Sarah Carter told the state board that general funds are used to cover travel to and from families by direct-service providers who deliver Medicaid-supported assistance for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology.

New Medicaid rates and a 6% increase for the new fiscal year that began July 1 from the Noem administration and the Legislature would have increased general fund spending in the Birth to 3 program by an estimated $375,000 to $400,000, according to Carter.

Paying 80% of the going Medicaid reimbursement for the most commonly billed speech rate for non-Medicaid services of special instruction and family training further increased the estimated impact by $47,000, Carter said.

Carter’s suggestion was to pay traveling providers $1 per mile, similar to the rate that lawyers are paid by the state Unified Judicial System. For fiscal 2023 that would save Birth to 3 an estimated $319,862, she said, and Birth to 3 could absorb the net increase of $129,000 in other ways, such as using teletherapy more often.

Brenda Tidball-Zeltinger, a deputy secretary at the state Department of Social Services, spoke in favor of the changes. So did executive director Joe Hauge from Black Hills Special Services Cooperative.

Testifying against the travel changes were Holly Nordstrom, a speech-language pathologist from Rapid City, and Kris Detert, a speech-language provider and contractor from Sioux Falls. They said it would make providers less interested in working for Birth to 3. Detert also said the tele-therapy sessions weren’t in the best interest of the child.