Health

Kentucky public schools can now start billing Medicaid — the state’s insurance program for children who live in low-income households — for certain student health screenings and services. Many schools are already providing these health care services for students, but don’t get paid to do so; the new program could be a significant windfall for public schools, especially those that serve lower income families.

Eva Stone, manager for district health services at Jefferson County Public Schools, said the change approved last week by the federal government is a very big deal. She said at least 65 percent of JCPS students either have or qualify for Medicaid coverage.

“What we do want to be able to do is bridge the gap; we have a lot of students that don’t have regular access to health care,” Stone said. “This really has the potential to help Kentucky really start addressing all the negative health outcomes that we see year after year after year in the state.”

Schools in Kentucky have long been able to bill Medicaid when a student has a disability and a specialized care plan. But the change opens up the ability to get paid by Medicaid for any child who has the insurance coverage.

The new program will cover care including physical and behavioral health screenings, immunizations, dental care, speech therapy support, and mental health counseling. Stone said the changes may mean schools will begin to provide some required health screenings and vaccinations for students, and get reimbursed through Medicaid.

Under Kentucky’s new school safety law, schools are encouraged to employ a counselor for every 250 students by July 2021. But the law didn’t have money attached to hire those professionals; unless that changes with legislative appropriations, schools will be responsible for paying any mental health workers on their own. Stone said the ability to bill Medicaid for sessions with a counselor will be a big help.

“We can expand mental health services and bill for mental health services provided in schools,” Stone said. “It’s something that will add some revenue back into the district for expenditures we already have.”

Schools will also be able to bill for services going back to the start of the school year, Aug. 1.

“Approval of this amendment is a game-changer,” said Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Adam Meier in a statement. “This will provide additional resources to support increased access to mental health services for students using money already being spent by school districts.”

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.