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Gaps in Pediatric Mental Care Persist Despite Use of Medicaid in Most States

September 09, 2016

A majority of US states cover basic mental health services for children through Medicaid; however, some essential services were covered by only a few states, according to a recent national survey by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP).  

The researchers conducted telephone interviews with administrators within the medical director’s offices of 49 states and Washington DC. Researchers asked administrators about the coverage of key Medicaid services for young children, aged younger than 6 years, and maternal depression screening as well as policies related to eligibility and quality.

Survey results showed that approximately 46 states use Medicaid to cover several important mental health services for low-income children. Medicaid coverage includes screening for social-emotional problems and mental health treatment in home, community, and pediatric settings. Other key services were covered by fewer states, according to the press release.

According to the report, parenting programs that address young children’s mental health needs, covered under Medicaid are only available in 12 states. Only nine states pay for maternal depression screening under the child’s Medicaid during a well-child visit.

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“States paying for maternal depression screening under the child’s Medicaid are wisely investing in children’s healthy development by helping their mothers obtain screening and referrals for depression,” Sheila Smith, PhD, lead author of the report and early childhood director at NCCP, said in the press release. “Young children’s behavioral health and development greatly depend on their mother’s mental health, and early support for children’s behavioral health is critical to later school success.”

According to the survey results, many states do not place restrictions on mental health services provided for young children – states do not limit the number of treatment visits or the type of treatment models utilized. Avoiding restrictions on the number of allowed visits can help children obtain the necessary amount of mental health care. However, the researchers noted that the few states that imposed restriction could be fostering high quality practices by forcing providers to use high-quality, effective treatments

 “Policymakers and advocates can use the findings to examine actual services in their states and explore options for improving access and effectiveness through their Medicaid programs,” Dr Smith concluded. —Julie Gould




National Center for Children in Poverty. Using Medicaid to Help Young Children and Parents Access Mental Health Services. Published August 2016. Accessed September 9, 2016.


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