August 8, 2018

Florida Could Access Millions for School-Based Medicaid Services, Reduce Child Health Disparities Under Recent Federal Policy Change

Florida law must be updated for the state to access more federal Medicaid dollars to support school-based health services, according to new report

LAKE MARY, FL – Florida has the opportunity to improve children’s health and educational outcomes while drawing down millions in additional federal funds for school-based Medicaid services by making a series of statutory and regulatory changes, according to a new brief by the Florida Policy Institute.

Of the 2.7 million students enrolled in public schools, over 1 million are covered by Medicaid.

Previously, federal law allowed Medicaid reimbursement to schools for services provided only to children with disabilities receiving special education services under an individualized education plan (IEP).  As of December 2014, this restriction has been lifted. Now, Medicaid reimbursement for school-based health services is permitted when provided to any child covered by Medicaid.

However, these changes are not automatic. A critical step is to amend Florida statutes, which still limit Medicaid reimbursement for health services provided only to children covered by Medicaid who have an IEP.

Medicaid serves a disproportionate share of children of color—27 percent of Black and 38 percent of Hispanic children in Florida. The Medicaid program and its comprehensive, pediatric-focused package — the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Program, which offers vital physical, mental, and dental services — can help reduce health disparities, notes the report.

Joseph F. Pennisi, executive director of the Institute, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for Florida to give students access to vital health services in a school-based setting. In addition to the primary benefit, helping to increase the health and well-being of students, studies have shown that providing health services in schools can help reduce absenteeism and increase academic performance.”

Mireya Eavey, chief workforce strategist for The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, said: “A majority of low-income working moms lose out on wages when they stay home to take care of sick kids. If schools and communities can use newly available federal dollars to bring more health services to schools, then those kids will not only be healthier learners, parents’ wages will be more predictable and employee absenteeism falls.”

Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, said: “We want what’s best for our students, and it’s tough for them to learn if they’re not healthy. The FEA has long advocated for community schools that support the whole child, and we would welcome changes to statute that make health care more accessible to low-income students at our public schools.”

Melissa Erickson, executive director of Alliance for Public Schools, said: “School districts, through initiatives like community schools, deliver holistic health services at school sites across the state which remove barriers to learning and increase student success. It is vitally important that our legislators update state statutes to support efforts like these and provide Florida’s most vulnerable children with expanded access to healthcare.”

Rochelle Davis, president and CEO of the Healthy Schools Campaign, said: “Schools present an important and efficient opportunity to reach vulnerable and under-served children. Providing health services at school supports children’s health and academic achievement, while reducing overall healthcare costs. Healthy Schools Campaign works with states across the country as they build systems for supporting children’s health using Medicaid funding. We have seen first-hand the importance of both effective policy implementation and building collaborative relationships among education and health stakeholders. Florida’s efforts to take these key steps will be an important opportunity to expand access to health services for the state’s most vulnerable children.”

Scott Darius, executive director of Florida Voices for Health, said: “There are clear and obvious connections between health care and education. This is a great opportunity for Florida to address health outcomes in our most vulnerable communities through a social determinants lens.”

School-based services, notes the Institute, are particularly beneficial for low-income working families, who often face barriers like a lack of transportation and difficulty getting time off from work to take their children to medical appointments.

Not only can these new federal funds support expansion of school-based health services, but they also present an opportunity for key stakeholders to step back and evaluate how these services can be improved and better meet the needs of local communities. Many current Florida policies and practices must be reviewed and revised. This includes:

  • Amending Florida statutes and regulations;
  • Increasing coordination and collaboration among agencies responsible for funding and administering these services;
  • Increasing technical support for local school districts trying to access and maximize federal Medicaid dollars; and
  • Including family voices to better ensure that unique local community health needs and health disparities are addressed.

The Institute’s mission is to advance state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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