Last week the White House announced two actions to strengthen school-based mental health services: a set of grant programs from the Department of Education that will increase the number of school-based mental health providers, and a joint letter to governors from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardonahighlighting current federal resources and previewing upcoming guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help states better utilize Medicaid for school mental health services.

The Department of Education started the process of distributing the mental health professional grants this week by soliciting comment on the design of the grant programs.

The letter to governors from Secretaries Becerra and Cardona describes steps their agencies have already taken to support school-based mental health services and announces guidance that will be released later this summer to help states improve their Medicaid programs to better support student mental health. These guidance documents were mandated by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (the Safer Act). Our Federal Affairs colleagues have written an analysis of the Safer Act and its potential to create new opportunities for OT in community mental health, Medicaid, and schools.

  • The guidance will encourage states to take up Medicaid’s existing “free care” policy, which allows schools to receive Medicaid reimbursement for services provided to all children covered by Medicaid, not just those with an IEP or IFSP, and reduce administrative burdens to make it easier for schools to bill Medicaid.
  • HHS will also issue guidance to help states improve coverage under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit, the Medicaid program’s benefit for infants, children, and adolescents under the age of 21. They will also provide technical assistance to states to identify and correct gaps and deficiencies in EPSDT, including in the provision of OT services.

The White House announcement also highlights additional mental health provisions of the Safer Act, including the nationwide expansion of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clincs (CCBHCs). When CCBHCs were rolled out in select states, AOTA worked with OT advocates from across the country to ensure that occupational therapy practitioners were listed in the suggested staffing guidelines. This expansion, which will roll out in 10-state increments, will provide an opportunity to again advocate for OT as a core part of the program.