Officials look to expand school-based student healthcare

Officials look to expand school-based student healthcare

(Ky.) Kentucky school districts would be allowed to utilize federal Medicaid funding to increase student access to school-based mental health services, health screenings, diabetes and asthma management under a plan announced last week.

Officials from the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Kentucky Department of Education said they will seek an amendment to the state Medicaid plan to provide greater healthcare access to children in school settings by allowing for the payment of qualifying health services on behalf of students enrolled in Medicaid.

Currently, only students enrolled in Medicaid with an Individual Education Plan qualify to receive these services through their school.

“The importance of school-based health services is proven, and I am grateful that our state agencies are partnering to implement this amendment, which will benefit thousands of students across Kentucky,” Gov. Matt Bevin said in a statement. “This is an example of state government working across cabinets to find solutions to address the growing need for increased access to mental health services, preventive care, and other health services in our schools.”

State and local policymakers throughout the country have moved in recent years to help address student health needs–especially those from low-income families. Many districts have hired mental health counselors or have partnered with local mental health providers, and some even work with community groups to provide children with dental and vision services.

Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s first two-year budget proposal included millions in additional funding for mental and physical health services and after-school programs for the state’s highest-needs. And California lawmakers have signaled they will seek the maximum federal funding to support school-based health care programs.

Children with Medicaid coverage often face barriers to receiving needed health services such as lack of transportation, parent work schedules, or even finding a nearby provider who accepts Medicaid. Increased school-based health services can help to reduce those challenges by providing a variety of health services beyond first aid treatment, according to Kentucky officials.

In a letter sent to all 172 district superintendents last week, education leaders and Kentucky Medicaid Commissioner Carol Steckel said that providing high-quality health services to children in schools often allows healthcare professionals to “address challenges before issues get more serious, require more costly interventions, and potentially put other students at risk.”

Additionally, they noted that districts will be better equipped to address disparities in care once they are able to place eligible health providers in schools and provide services covered under Medicaid.

If the plan is approved, officials said the goal is to begin expansion of services during the 2019-20 school year. They noted that state health and education department staff are working to communicate program requirements to superintendents, and set up operational procedures to support improving health care access for students.

Kristi Putnam, CHFS deputy secretary, said that as a former classroom teacher she has seen how valuable it is to have physical and behavioral health services available to students on campus. The new plan would help schools expand their efforts to help support the whole child, she said.

“For many years, schools have struggled to find funding for provision of health services in schools, even though education leaders realize the importance of having these providers on site,” Putnam said in a statement. “More than two in five students are covered under Medicaid, so this initiative will have a tremendous impact within our schools.”

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