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. Medicaid is a public health insurance program that provides a lifeline of health coverage for 3.8 million low-income Floridians, including over 2 million under age 18. Medicaid covers pediatric services, including periodic health, dental, vision and mental health screenings, diagnosis and treatment. Schools are a key venue for reaching students with Medicaid-covered services. School-based health services meet students where they are, at a critical time and place for their healthy development and readiness to learn.
Previously, Medicaid reimbursement to schools only covered services provided to children with disabilities receiving special education services under an individualized education plan (IEP). Now, Medicaid reimbursement for school-based health services is permitted when provided to any child covered by Medicaid.
However, Florida law reflects the old reimbursement policies. It limits Medicaid reimbursements to children covered by Medicaid who have an IEP. The wording of the law must be changed to reflect the change in federal policy in order to access the funds and serve more children.
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.”
Multiple studies document the value of providing health services in the school setting, including less absenteeism, better academic performance and better health outcomes. Low-income families often face barriers to getting health services for their children, including losing wages for missed work hours and inflexible schedules. School-based services provide families and their children easier access to care. They also provide important opportunities to reduce health disparities for the most underserved Florida children, including children of color, and improve school-based professional health staffing ratios, which are woefully below recommended standards.
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.”
The Florida Policy Institute calls for a revamp of the policies and practices that cover health services for children. Their recommendations include:
- 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.