A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Medicaid changes will allow Kentucky’s local school districts to expand behavioral health services

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Local school districts will soon be able to hire more licensed psychologists, counselors and other behavioral health professionals, thanks to upcoming Medicaid changes that will allow schools to use federal dollars. 

Kristi Putnam, deputy secretary of the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, says schools will be able to offer more supports to help students struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

“If a school wants to do a behavioral-health assessment for all their students, currently that is at the expense of the school district,” says Putnam. “With these changes, that school district will be able to bill for any youth or children in their school who receive Medicaid. So they would get some reimbursement, whereas before, as of right now today, they don’t receive reimbursement for those services.”

Kentucky school districts soon will be able to increase behavioral-health and health services for students by using federal Medicaid dollars. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

Putnam says schools can now comply with Senate Bill 1, also known as Kentucky’s School Safety and Resiliency Act, which went into effect on July 1.

The law mandates that each school be staffed with health professionals. 

The state is still waiting on final approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before schools can begin working with providers.

Putnam says the Medicaid changes, known as “Free Care,” went into effect about five years ago, but only recently are beginning to catch on. 

”States were allowed to make this change to allow school districts to bill for services, but only about 14 states are currently either pursuing it or doing it,” says Putnam. “So it’s not a change that has been widely implemented yet.”

Dr. Jim Flynn, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, says school districts now will be better equipped to address students’ immediate behavioral-health needs.

”We have seen over the past 15, 16 years an increase in the referrals for students that are dealing with behavioral health issues,” says Flynn. “These funds that are being released will only help us.”

Last year, between 14% and 16% of 8th, 10th and 12th graders said they had seriously considered attempting suicide, according to data by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center.

That same survey found that among 15- to 19-year-olds, 28% of suicide deaths were linked to a depressed mood, 24% had a mental health diagnosis and 20% cited problems with an intimate partner.

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