As Medicaid school-based services bills near the finish line, Florida Policy Institute (FPI) reflects on how in-depth research can combine with outreach and advocacy to promote good policy.
In August 2018, FPI 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.
FPI 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, FPI 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, FPI secured bipartisan sponsors for legislation: Rep. Andrade, Republican of Pensacola, and Sen. Montford, Democrat from Tallahassee. During the 2020 Session, Sen. Gayle Harrell, Republican from Stuart and Chair of the Health Policy Committee, joined as a primary Senate cosponsor for the legislation — Senate Bill (SB) 190 and House Bill (HB) 81: “Medicaid School-based Services.”
If this legislation passes, local school districts will 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 FY 2019-20, the state increased this funding to $75 million. FPI estimates 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. (A district-by-district breakdown is provided below.)
Every year that Florida delays passing this policy change is a year that schools and districts are missing out on significant match dollars, not just for mental health services, but for a whole range of health services. Expanding access to school-based health services would ensure healthier children, lower absenteeism, a reduction in health disparities and increased academic performance. HB 81 is up for a vote on the House floor this week; SB 190 has made it through two of its three committees in the Senate. Thanks to expert policy research, broad coalition building, and strong public champions, Florida is very close to passing legislation that will be an important step toward better supporting student health.
Organizations supporting HB 81/SB 190, “Medicaid School-based Services":
United Ways of Florida
Florida Children’s Council
Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics
Society of Health and Physical Educators Florida
Florida Voices for Health
Lupus and Allied Diseases Association
National Association of Social Workers—Florida
Florida Health Justice Project
FRIENDS Down Syndrome West Florida
Bend the Arc South Florida
Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative
The Children’s Trust Miami Dade County