CMS Administrator Verma Issues “Vital Call to Action to Protect Children’s Health”; New York’s Stakeholders Call for “NY Tough” Response


September 25, 2020

Albany, NY – Yesterday, New York’s children’s advocacy community participated in an emergency stakeholder call with Administrator Seema Verma, the same day the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an urgent call to action following release of national data which showed a drastic decline in care for children in Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Today, children’s behavioral health advocates call for an immediate “NY Tough” response from the Governor and state health and mental health officials.

Based on preliminary Medicaid and CHIP data released by CMS, Administrator Verma revealed that, during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency (PHE), rates for vaccinations, primary, and preventive services among children in Medicaid and CHIP have steeply declined. Verma emphasized that the decline may have significant impacts on long-term health and mental health outcomes for children. Medicaid and CHIP cover nearly 40 million children, including 2.4 million children in New York. Three quarters of these children are living in poverty, and many have special health care needs that require health services. Though state-level data is still forthcoming, children’s advocates in New York are deeply concerned that these same trends are playing out in our state and threatening the long-term health of New York’s children.

In response, New York’s advocates are calling on the Governor to take action to make services more readily available so that we can begin closing the gap in care for children. The specific services that show the steepest declines include a 69% decrease in dental services, a 44% decrease in mental health and developmental screenings, and a 22% decrease in childhood vaccinations.

Advocates urge the following action to catch-up on overdue behavioral health services. Additional recommendations will be forthcoming regarding medical, dental, and preventive services.

  • Use an Executive Order to add certain mental health screening and assessment services to the Child Health Program (CHP) benefit package so in-home and non-clinic-based assessments are more readily accessible by families for their children.
  • Plan and promote “Pop-up” Assessment Centers at schools, firehouses, food pick-up locations, community centers, and other key sites where children and families congregate to facilitate mental health screenings (including by Child and Family Treatment and Support Service providers).

    “CMS’ preliminary data shows that while service delivery via telehealth for children has increased dramatically, it is still not enough to offset this decline in care for vulnerable children, said Andrea

Smyth, Executive Director of the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health. “This confirms the anecdotal information from children’s mental health providers here in New York.”

“This deeply concerning data on the decline in children’s health services makes clear that our state must do more to prevent long-term harm to children’s health and behavioral,” said Jennifer March, Executive Director of Citizens’ Committee for Children, on behalf of the Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids Campaign. “Even prior to the pandemic, roughly half of young people across New York State were unable to access the behavioral health and substance use services they need. Since March of 2020, the need for quality, accessible children’s primary and behavioral health services has only grown, especially within the communities of color hit hardest by the pandemic. Now is not the time for austerity – it is the time to invest in solutions that support families during this crisis and help connect children to the behavioral, oral, preventive and primary health services that are so essential for ensuring their health and wellbeing.”

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