HHS announces $14.2 million from American Rescue Plan to expand pediatric mental healthcare access

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, is making available about $14.2 million from the American Rescue Plan to expand pediatric mental healthcare access by integrating telehealth services into pediatric primary care. 

The funding will expand Pediatric Mental Health Care Access projects into new states and geographic areas across the U.S., including in tribal areas.

Once established, the new state and regional networks of pediatric mental healthcare teams will provide teleconsultations, training, technical assistance and care coordination for pediatric primary care providers to diagnose, treat and refer children and youth with mental health conditions and substance use disorders. 

Currently, there are 21 PMCHA projects in the country, according to HHS.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

The move was inspired by the mental health struggles of children during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the agency said includes a range of emotional and behavioral challenges. These challenges are especially prevalent among lower-income families or those who face other obstacles to care.

What the new program expansion hopes to achieve, essentially, is to use technology to improve access to mental and behavioral healthcare for children, and to link pediatric care providers to children and families who may be in need of specialized care.

Research demonstrates an increased need for pediatric mental and behavioral healthcare. In the U.S., about 22% of children ages 3 to 17 are currently affected by some type of mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral condition, according to HHS. Only about 20% of children with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders receive care from a specialized provider.

Pediatric mental healthcare teams will include child and adolescent psychiatrists, licensed mental health professionals and care coordinators. Pediatric primary care providers can include, but are not limited to, pediatricians, family physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and care coordinators. Teams will use telehealth to consult with pediatric primary care providers.

THE LARGER TREND

Access to mental health services has been under the spotlight in recent weeks and months, as the pandemic has highlighted not only the need for such services, but the struggles of Americans when it comes to utilizing them.

For instance, the public health emergency is continuing to have an impact on Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiaries, as well as the utilization of health services, according to data released this week from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Specifically, Americans have been forgoing primary, preventive and mental healthcare visits.

According to data culled from March through October 2020, utilization rates have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels for some treatments, but mental health services have shown the slowest rebound.

This sluggish rebound in utilization is occurring at a time when preliminary evidence shows mental health conditions have worsened nationwide. The gap in service utilization due to the PHE, particularly for mental health services, may have a substantial impact on long-term health outcomes.

On Wednesday, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced it would distribute $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding — the largest aggregate amount of funding to date for its mental health and substance use block grant programs, according to HHS.

The Community Mental Health Services Block Grant Program and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Program will disperse $1.5 billion each to states and territories, with the latter also awarding money to a tribe. This follows the March announcement of supplemental funding of nearly $2.5 billion for these programs.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an operating division of HHS, has expedited federal funding to grantees to help communities grappling with mental health and substance use needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the telehealth front, the pandemic is increasing demand, driving consumers to increasingly seek virtual care options. The search is extending to behavioral health services, according to a March report from health insurer Cigna.

ON THE RECORD

“Now more than ever, families need mental and behavioral healthcare for their children, but significant disparities in access to this treatment continue to exist,” said Acting HRSA Administrator Diana Espinosa. “The expansion of the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program paves the way for more children to receive necessary mental health services, especially those in underserved communities.”
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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