According to a recent study from the National Center for Children in Poverty and Columbia University, a large number of states in the U.S. utilize Medicaid to provide mental health services to poor children.
That coverage isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly helpful. The main problem is that the way states use Medicaid, the kinds of services they provide, the number of visits allowed, and other factors vary across the country.
Identifying and helping with mental health issues early in life can prevent the worsening of those issues or the development of other issues later in life. Catching behavioral problems early on, for example, can improve a child’s experiences in school. Programs that help children address mental health issues can have a long-standing benefit for them, as well as their parents.
One critical issue is that only nine states screen for maternal mental health issues such as postpartum depression.
“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,” says Sheila Smith, Ph.D, the study’s lead author. “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.”
Part of the problem is the difficulty of convincing some insurance carriers to treat such issues as worth covering, which is why using Medicaid to help address these issues is so important.
Finding that states do not apply Medicaid evenly across the board should give policymakers and mental health advocates some idea of where things can be improved. It may take a lot of effort to get states to move forward with implementing changes to Medicaid’s mental health care offerings, but improving access across the board and reaching a national standard is a worthy exercise.