School Medicaid’s Role in Addressing Mental Health is Focus of HSPF Meeting

June 16, 2022 | Written By:

A new survey by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 70 percent of public schools reported an increase in the number of students seeking mental health services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This number is not surprising and tracks with previous studies and reports noting a major uptick in student need — a need that schools are finding increasingly difficult to meet due to lack of funding and a shortage of qualified mental health professionals. 

These issues were the focus of a recent two-day meeting of the Healthy Students, Promising Futures Learning Collaborative, an initiative led by Healthy Schools Campaign to support states working to expand access to Medicaid-funded school health services. The Collaborative provides members with an opportunity to receive technical assistance and to share lessons learned and best practices for increasing access and funding. 

Through this work, HSC has learned a great deal about best practices at the state and local levels for strengthening school Medicaid and has identified federal policy solutions that can help reduce barriers and administrative burdens associated with school Medicaid programs. 

The HSPF meeting involved nearly 130 participants representing 20 states and the District of Columbia. Speakers included Katherine Neas, the U.S. Department of Education’s deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. While offering an overview of the Department’s efforts to reduce Medicaid reimbursement barriers and help states strengthen school Medicaid, Neas underscored the importance of providing schools with the resources and infrastructure needed to increase access to mental health services.

Mary Moody, health policy advisor to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Anthony Theissen, health policy advisor to Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), discussed Congressional actions and legislative opportunities to improve student mental health. Both advisors stressed that schools should use the federal Medicaid benefits to which they’re entitled, and they shared Congress’ commitment to move legislation forward that provides comprehensive and preventive healthcare services for children enrolled in Medicaid.

The meeting also featured panels on the school mental health workforce shortage and partnerships between schools and managed care organizations, among other topics. Small group discussions were held on specific administrative issues, including parental consent to bill Medicaid. 

Currently, 17 states have successfully expanded their school Medicaid programs to cover more services delivered in schools, including mental health services. Five more have started the process, including HSPF Learning Collaborative member states New Mexico, Virginia and Illinois.

Some Learning Collaborative state teams have already expanded access to Medicaid-funded school services and are working on additional improvements and implementation. Among the recent highlights: Colorado clarified that school psychologists are eligible for Medicaid reimbursement; Kentucky expanded the types of Medicaid-eligible services to include certain COVID services; New Hampshire released new technical assistance manuals; and Tennessee is expanding partnerships with managed care organizations. Reports from all member states are available in the program slide deck.

Many of these states specifically addressed mental health by ensuring that both the mental health services a school provides – and the health professionals providing those services – are eligible for Medicaid reimbursement. This leads to additional sustainable funding. For example, Michigan expanded its program to allow claiming for all Medicaid-enrolled students and added additional types of behavioral and mental health providers. Billing for masters-level school psychologists alone is projected to add $14 million per year. 

“We’re very excited about federal support for school Medicaid programs and the recognition of the Learning Collaborative’s leadership in this field,” said Rochelle Davis, HSC president and CEO. “Their work is providing a model for other states seeking to provide physical, behavioral and mental health services to students in need.”

To learn more about the role of school Medicaid in expanding access to and resources for school health services, check out Healthy Schools Campaign’s interactive map on school Medicaid and the newly updated “Guide to Expanding Medicaid-Funded School Health Services.” Here are more examples of how states are benefiting financially from expanding access.

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Note - updated to the HSC Newsletter list 1.3.2017 per the updated newsletter configuration