Health

Kentucky schools could soon get assistance from the federal government to help pay for school counselors and other health providers.

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Deputy Secretary Kristi Putnam told legislators Monday that the state is asking the federal government for permission to allow Kentucky schools to bill Medicaid when a school counselor or other health provider treats a Medicaid-enrolled student.

The federal government has until the end of August to notify Kentucky if schools will be able to bill Medicaid or not.

“If approved, Medicaid will be able to reimburse for medically necessary services provided to any Medicaid-enrolled child when it’s already available to children at no charge,” Putnam said.

“And those could include comprehensive health screenings, they could include certain mental health services and they could also include diabetes and asthma management just to name a few things.”

Terry Brooks, the executive director with Kentucky Youth Advocates, said schools wouldn’t be required to bill Medicaid, but he expects the majority would do so. Brooks said funding could help schools offer students better services.

“Ultimately, this is going to catch like wildfire. It is a way to significantly stretch scarce dollars and to meet a well-documented imperative for students around health access,” Brooks said.

“I do believe that it will encourage schools to address needs around mental and behavioral health through innovative staffing such as employing school nurses, school social workers and school psychologists.”

State Sen. Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville, said during Monday’s legislative hearing that if approved, the new billing method would also help schools meet requirements set out in legislation passed earlier this year.

Senate Bill 1, referred to as the school safety bill, requires schools to employ a counselor for every 250 students by July 2021. Wise, the bill’s primary sponsor, said Medicaid reimbursement could help schools with some of the costs.

“I heard from so many superintendents and educators across the state saying, ‘We really like Senate Bill 1 … how we’re going to pay for it?’” Wise said. “I think this is the right start.”

In Kentucky, two out of five kids are covered by Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Currently, a school can only bill Medicaid for kids who qualify for special education.

According to Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the state has 1,688 students per school psychologist, while the national standard is between 500 to 700 students per psychologist. If approved, schools could start billing Medicaid as soon as the fall of 2019.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.