(FRANKFORT, KY) – Gov. Matt Bevin announced June 3 that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), in partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), will seek an amendment to Kentucky’s Medicaid state plan to provide greater healthcare access to students in schools across the Commonwealth by allowing for the payment of qualifying physical and mental health services.

The proposed amendment allows Kentucky school districts to utilize federal Medicaid funding to provide students enrolled in Medicaid with increased access to school-based healthcare, including mental health services, health screenings, and diabetes and asthma management. Currently, only students enrolled in Medicaid with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) qualify to receive these services.

“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,” said Bevin. “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.”

In a letter sent statewide to all 172 district superintendents, KDE Commissioner Wayne Lewis and Kentucky Medicaid Commissioner Carol Steckel underscored the significance of providing high-quality health services to Kentucky children, noting that these services often “address challenges before issues get more serious, require more costly interventions, and potentially put other students at risk.”

“Given Medicaid’s historic role in supporting children’s health and educational outcomes, ensuring that all eligible students are enrolled in Medicaid and have access to the school-based health services they need are key strategies to supporting a healthy learning environment and academic success,” Lewis said. “Many Kentucky school districts have significant financial challenges. The ability to further leverage federal resources to meet students’ health needs permits districts to target teaching and learning with state and local resources.”

According to data submitted in Kentucky’s proposal, the state has 1,688 students per school psychologist, when the national standard recommends 500 to 700. By allowing schools to access funding through the Medicaid program to place eligible health providers in schools and provide services covered under Medicaid, school systems will be able to address disparities in care.

“As a former classroom teacher, I know how valuable it is to have health services and behavioral health services for kids right there at the school,” said CHFS Deputy Secretary Kristi Putnam. “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. More than 2-in-5 students are covered under Medicaid, so this initiative will have a tremendous impact within our schools.”

Children with Medicaid coverage often do not receive needed health services due to barriers such as lack of transportation, parent work schedules or finding a nearby provider who accepts Medicaid. Increased school-based health services and telehealth are opportunities to address such barriers by providing a variety of health services beyond first aid treatment.

“This is an opportunity to reduce barriers for families so that children can be connected to critical health services, which also can raise awareness with the adults in the home about the importance of seeking care when needed,” added Putnam.

Acute care services also can be provided, such as treatment for asthma. Some school systems already directly employ health professionals to provide these services. Other schools, often in partnership with community organizations, community health centers, hospitals or local health departments, have established school-based health centers to provide health care services to students.

The Medicaid plan amendment was submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on April 28. If approved, the goal is to begin this expansion of services and eligible students during the 2019-2020 school year for those school districts that choose to participate. CHFS and KDE are working in partnership to communicate program requirements to superintendents, and set up operational procedures to support improving health care access for students.

To view a copy of the joint letter sent by Lewis and Steckel, use this Dropbox link.