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New MO HealthNet policy enhances access to behavioral health services in school settings

Mental health behavioral health

Schools have a new opportunity to meet students’ behavioral health needs, thanks to the advocacy efforts of Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) School-Based Health Center Task Force and the continuing efforts of the emerging state affiliate of national School-Based Health Alliance: Show-Me School-Based Health (SMSBH).

MSBA started convening school districts, community providers, and state agencies to discuss unmet physical and behavioral health needs, explore barriers that districts and community providers face in addressing these needs, and develop solutions.

Shortly after meetings began, it became apparent one unmet need was access to behavioral health services for students. Across the state of Missouri, urban and rural school districts alike continued to share their experience with students exhibiting a need for behavioral health services yet unable to receive those during the school day due to the lack of available providers and/or the services could not be billed on school grounds.

Meanwhile, community providers interested in collaborating with schools to address the behavioral needs of students in their service area faced a dilemma: the inability to bill MO HealthNet fee-for-service or MO HealthNet managed care insurance plans for services provided on school grounds.

This policy change is a wonderful opportunity, but schools and community providers have to be savvy consumers and learn to be good partners by understanding how each sector operates and serves students. Everyone has to do their due diligence to ensure children get what they need to succeed in and outside the classroom.

Without the ability to bill, the services provided would need to be covered by another funding source. For many, this was not possible. Therefore, students did not have access to quality behavioral health services in the setting in which they spend the majority of their time — UNTIL NOW!

This spring the Department of Social Services MO HealthNet division wrote a new policy to address this issue and published a bulletin: Behavioral Health Services in a School Setting, which explained this solution to many districts’ and community providers’ access barrier.

Effective immediately, school is now a place of service that may be reimbursed to community providers for behavioral health services. The bulletin also provides guidelines and limitations on non-IEP (individualized education program) behavioral health services provided on school grounds.

This policy change is a wonderful opportunity, but schools and community providers have to be savvy consumers and learn to be good partners by understanding how each sector operates and serves students. Everyone has to do their due diligence to ensure children get what they need to succeed in and outside the classroom.

Kim Ratcliffe, chair of SMSBH Advocacy and Public Policy subcommittee recently shared her thoughts on why this policy change is good for schools and the children they serve: “Schools understand the strong connection between a child’s mental health and academic achievement. When schools have access to quality mental health services and imbed those services into a problem-solving framework to support children and the adults who serve them, we ensure the brightest possible future for our children.”

MSBA convened a smaller working group of educators, state leaders, payers, and providers to produce the Missouri Guidelines for Implementing Behavioral Health Supports in Schools. It provides guidance on how to move forward with the policy change, best practices, and resources that may be useful in operationalizing this wonderful opportunity to address behavioral health needs of Missouri’s children.

For instance:

  • As a district, what are the do’s and don’ts of incorporating behavioral health services into your school’s catalog of student resource?
  • As a provider, how do you implement behavioral health services in a school within your service area?

These questions and more can be answered using the guidelines.

The new bulletin has broadened the type of behavioral health services that can be offered on school grounds as well as the criteria of children to receive these services and any district and community provider can use the guidelines prepared by experts to explore next steps. The guidelines are readily available on MSBA’s website.

This piece was submitted by the Show-Me School-Based Health Alliance, an emerging affiliate of the National School-Based Health Alliance. Partners include Missouri School Boards’ Association, Missouri Department of Social Services, and Missouri Department of Mental Health. To learn more, visit their website.


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Health Forward's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact Health Forward Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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