While the majority of Kentucky children get their health care insurance from federally-funded programs, they still face barriers that make accessing health care difficult.

A new proposal would remove some of those barriers by expanding health care access to students in Kentucky schools.

A proposed amendment to Kentucky's Medicaid state plan would allow school districts to use federal Medicaid funding to provide students enrolled in Medicaid with increased access to school-based health care.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Kentucky Department of Education are seeking the amendment, according to a news release from Gov. Matt Bevin's office.

More students would have access to mental health services, health screenings, diabetes care, asthma management and more.

Under the current program, only students enrolled in Medicaid who have an individualized education plan qualify to receive these services.

The Medicaid plan amendment was submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services April 28.

If approved, the goal is to begin this expansion during the 2019-20 school year in school districts that choose to participate.

Children are eligible for Medicaid if they are between the ages of 1 and 18 with a family income up to 159 percent of the federal poverty level. They are eligible for KCHIP, the Kentucky's Children's Health Insurance Program, if their family has an income up to 213 percent of the poverty level.

The two programs have the same benefits, including doctor visits, dental care, hospitalization, outpatient services, psychiatrists, laboratory tests and more.

A report from Kentucky Health News in 2018 revealed more than 60 percent of American children are enrolled in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In 2018, about 63 percent of the state's children were enrolled in one of the programs, amounting to more than 640,000 children.

In Kentucky, as of March 2019, there were more than 1.2 million people enrolled in Medicaid and KCHIP programs. Of those, 563,348 are children, according to medicaid.gov data.

Expanding this program to allow more access to health care for these children would be a critical step for the state.

While these children have free or reduced-cost health care, they face barriers that make accessing that health care difficult, such as lack of transportation; parent work schedules; or finding a nearby provider that accepts Medicaid.

In a letter to school districts sent this week, KDE Commissioner Wayne Lewis said, "children covered by Medicaid are less frequently absent from school and are more likely to graduate from high school ..."

Schools are one place these students visit daily with free transportation. Schools can be a crucial meeting place for students to receive their basic health care needs.

Lewis summed up the need for this expansion perfectly in his letter.

"Research shows when children experience health problems in the classroom, such as asthma, a toothache or depression, it is difficult for them to concentrate and do well in school. Further, with a significant number of Kentucky children in 2015-16 having one or more emotional, behavioral or developmental condition, providing health services in the school setting can help address immediate health care needs, connect students to behavioral health services and keep students learning."

These services can be preventative and will also protect other children from the spread of illnesses by catching things early.

Schools should be places where children can learn and grow, but they can't do that if their basic needs aren't met. Our schools do an excellent job filling in the gaps when it comes to these basic needs -- think free and reduced lunches -- but funding limits how much schools can help students in many cases.

We are hopeful this amendment will pass, and that school districts across the state will take advantage of the program's new benefits.

It will mean thousands more of Kentucky's most vulnerable children will have access to the care they need, and they can focus more fully on their education.

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