Kentucky schools can tap federal money to provide more school-based health services for students enrolled in Medicaid

Kentucky school districts can now use federal Medicaid funding to expand school-based health services, the state announced Friday.

“The Medicaid state plan amendment will allow school districts to use federal funding to expand access to qualifying physical- and mental-health services for students enrolled in Medicaid,” Kristi Putnam, deputy secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in the news release.

Examples of services that could now be covered include physical and behavioral health screenings, immunizations, dental care, speech therapy supports, and mental health counseling, says the release.

Historically, schools could only bill Medicaid for students who were disabled or met other limited criteria. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services changed that in December 2014 to let states provide school-based health services to any student enrolled in Medicaid, and get federal reimbursement for it.

More than two in five Kentucky children are covered by Medicaid, but the state just recently decided to seek the money, a decision that seems largely driven by an increase in behavioral-health issues in schools.

“Approval of this amendment is a game-changer,” Health Secretary Adam Meier said in the release. “This will provide additional resources to support increased access to mental health services for students using money already being spend by school districts.”

Putnam pointed out that the additional funding will help support the School Safety and Resiliency Act, or Senate Bill 1, that calls for one trained school resource officer in every school and one guidance counselor for every 250 students by July 1, 2021, or as funds and qualified personnel become available. School-based mental-health providers fall under a subsection of the guidance-counselor requirements and are listed as optional. The bill has no funding attached to it.

It’s important to note that Medicaid will only pay for licensed mental-health providers, not guidance counselors, unless they have a special certification, which most of them don’t, Eva Stone, district health coordinator for the Jefferson County Public Schoolstold Kentucky Health News in April.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, applauded the decision to take advantage of this previously untapped funding, especially for the purposes of funding SB 1.

“The importance of preventive health and behavioral health services is undeniable as is the insight to provide them in schools to maximize students access,” Brooks said in a prepared statement. “Ensuring children have these services not only positively impacts health, it is a catalyst to better academic achievement and even better school environment.”

Being able to treat children in schools will also reduce many of  the barriers parents have to get their children health care, such as lack of transportation, non-flexible work schedules, or finding a provider who accepts Medicaid, the state news release says.

The release says the change to Medicaid will be phased in, and approval for reimbursements to school districts is retroactive to August 1, 2019.