Q&A: Jessie Mandle, HSC National Program Director

May 01, 2023 | Written By:

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

This is the first interview in a new series spotlighting staff and their work supporting HSC’s commitment to improving student health and making schools healthier places where students learn and thrive.

You joined Healthy Schools Campaign  in October 2022. What does your role involve?

Jessie Mandle: I oversee HSC’s work to expand comprehensive school health services, which is key to ensuring all children and youth have access to care and to advancing health equity.

A primary focus is on school Medicaid policies and programs, as Medicaid is a consistent and sustainable source of funding and plays a vital role for kids and families.

This work is connected to HSC’s mission of making schools healthier places for all students and prioritizing equity in all aspects of our work.

I’m lucky that I get to work with many educators, school health champions and other advocates across the country. I also oversee the Healthy Students, Promising Futures Learning Collaborative, a group of state teams working on strengthening school Medicaid programs. HSC provides technical assistance and organizes two big convenings per year (currently virtual) that feature Congressional staff members and other speakers from federal agencies and partner organizations. We also hold monthly peer-to-peer calls on specific topics. 

We’re very excited that 19 states so far — including Illinois, which received federal approval just last month —  have successfully aligned their state Medicaid plan with federal policy. That means those states can seek federal reimbursement for all Medicaid-covered school-based health services, including mental healthcare, provided to all students enrolled in Medicaid, instead of being limited to reimbursement for services included in a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 

And 12 of the 19 states are in the Learning Collaborative! It has been such an honor to meet and work with the compassionate and dedicated representatives from school districts and state Medicaid and education agencies on the HSPF teams. 

What have state team members learned that helped them become some of the earliest adopters? 

JM: First, collaboration among Medicaid agencies, state education departments and school districts is absolutely essential. It’s a point we made in the “Guide to Expanding School-Based Medicaid,” and it’s still true today. 

The Learning Collaborative offers a space for state team members to share their own experiences and knowledge about school Medicaid policies and reimbursement processes. 

That, in turn, has helped us develop a deeper understanding of the different challenges states and schools face in expanding school Medicaid, and we produce tools and resources specific to those challenges as well as existing opportunities.  

We’re also more aware of the successes. We know states are adding more types of providers eligible to bill Medicaid and are receiving more funding in return. We developed a brief that explains how more states can expand the list of school health personnel that qualify as Medicaid providers when they update their state Medicaid plan. 

And we also point to areas where more policy clarification is needed, such as Medicaid coverage of school-based crisis services. We are excited to continue to support, convene and lift up the connections and learning across different state and school entities. 

The 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act calls on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to help states expand their school Medicaid program. How will that affect the school health landscape?

JM: BSCA was a game changer for school Medicaid and mental health services! So much is happening this year — we expect to see updated guidance, a technical assistance center and state grants encouraging the expansion of school-based Medicaid. HSC has been advocating for these investments for years, and we have some suggestions on how a TA center can support districts effectively. It is so exciting to come on board as they’re being implemented.

As we noted last year when BSCA was signed into law, this policy win was swept into the Senate’s bipartisan gun violence package. We still urgently need meaningful legislative action to address gun violence. 

We also recognize the trauma of violence many young people face and need to ensure school health programs and services are able to meet their mental, emotional and behavioral health needs. Now, more than ever, schools need funding for counselors to help a growing number of students cope with anxiety, depression and other health issues that are compounded by violence — especially in historically under-invested school districts that serve primarily Black and Latinx students where funding has not been available to improve student health or create healthy school environments. 

What’s next in terms of program development at HSC?  

JM: Lots on the horizon! We are involved in a new research project exploring how Medicaid can be leveraged to better support prevention and substance misuse early intervention services in school settings. This is an area HSC has been exploring for a while — where Medicaid can support prevention in schools. 

We’ll also be digging into the role of managed care in school health. This is the moment to think holistically about student health, and an opportunity for education, Medicaid and public health to come together to consider students’ health and wellness needs and learning outcomes. 

In my previous job, I oversaw health policy at a child advocacy organization in Utah. I worked on campaigns to ensure all children, regardless of their background or immigration status, had access to health insurance and services to stay healthy and learn. I saw the critically important way that schools and Medicaid work together to promote coverage for kids and access to care.

I’m thrilled that I now get to work for Healthy Schools Campaign on increasing access to health services. We are in an exciting moment where the importance of school health has been elevated and recognized. Now we need to make sure schools have the funding and support they need to provide students with the care they need and deserve.

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