Guidance was sent to school districts from FL Dept. of Education allowing them to, for the first time under HB 81, bill for health services for all Medicaid eligible children.
In August 2018, we released a report detailing an opportunity to significantly increase funding for school-based health services in Florida. The report’s author, senior policy analyst and attorney Anne Swerlick, had discovered that Florida statutes precluded the state from participating in a new national policy regarding the Medicaid program and school-based services. Several other states had changed their policies to take advantage of the funding for things like eyeglasses, hearing aids, mental health screenings, access to school nurses, and many other critical services. But for Florida students to benefit, policy change was necessary. Legislators needed to take notice.
We reached out to children’s advocacy and health organizations, community groups, and legislators to raise awareness about the federal policy change and the need for legislative action. In 2019, we successfully recruited 16 organizations to support the initiative, including the United Ways of Florida, the Florida Children’s Council, Florida PTA, and Florida Voices for Health. With support of this broad coalition, we secured bipartisan sponsors for legislation: Rep. Andrade (R-Pensacola) and Sen. Montford (D-Tallahassee). During the 2020 Session, Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), Chair of the Health Policy Committee, joined as a primary Senate cosponsor for the legislation — SB/HB 81: “Medicaid School-based Services.”
On June 24, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law CS/HB 81, a measure that will help schools draw down at least $51 million annually in additional federal dollars for school-based health services, including mental health screenings, diagnoses, and treatment. Local school districts will now be able to draw down $1.56 in federal Medicaid funds for every state or local dollar spent on Medicaid-eligible children needing health services. One such funding stream that districts will be able to better leverage is the Mental Health Assistance funding, boosted as a result of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. In fiscal year 2019-20, the state increased this funding to $75 million. We estimate that if school districts had been able to draw down the additional federal match for the mental health services they provided with this funding to Medicaid-eligible children, Florida’s schools would have seen an additional $51 million.
Thanks to expert policy research, broad coalition building, and strong public champions, Florida schools will be able to access millions more for health services. In the midst of a public health crisis, students will only benefit from additional resources.
Legislators from across the aisle and organizations from across the state helped Florida Policy Institute to pull Medicaid School-based Services (HB 81/SB 190) across the finish line in 2020. “I’m excited to see that HB 81 has been signed into law,” said bill sponsor Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola). “Thousands of children in Florida will be able to receive the treatment they need in their school, without facing the choice of missing classes or foregoing services.” “I hear firsthand from families in the panhandle still reeling from Hurricane Michael and now the Coronavirus Pandemic; they are in desperate need of resources to address the long term mental health effects,” said bill sponsor Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee). “This change in law is common sense and provides school districts with another tool to reach students statewide. Thanks to this legislation schools will be able to provide increased medical and, particularly, mental health services directly to children that need it most.”