Medicaid provides affordable and comprehensive health coverage to over 30 million children, improving their health and their families’ financial well-being. Not only do children covered by Medicaid do better in school, but they are more likely to be healthier over the long term and earn more as adults. Many children receive Medicaid-covered health care not only at the doctor’s office, but also at school.
Capping and cutting federal Medicaid funding, as the House Republican American Health Care Act would do, would put critical health-related services for low-income students at serious risk and threaten an important source of funds for schools and states.
Here are some important ways that that Medicaid serves schools and children:
Medicaid helps kids stay healthy and succeed academically. Children covered by Medicaid experience better health as adults, with fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Also, children covered by Medicaid are more likely to graduate from high school and college and earn higher wages, thus contributing more in taxes as adults.
Schools must provide medical services that are necessary for students with disabilities to get an education, as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires. In many cases, Medicaid pays for services, such as physical and speech therapy, for students with disabilities who are enrolled in Medicaid. By providing reimbursement for health care services that students with disabilities need to succeed, Medicaid helps fill the special education funding gap that schools face because of insufficient federal funding for IDEA.
Medicaid funding helps schools pay the salaries of health care and other staff who provide important services to students, not just those with Medicaid coverage. In 2017, 68 percent of school superintendents reported that they used Medicaid funding to keep school nurses, school counselors, speech therapists, and other health professionals on staff. Cuts to Medicaid could jeopardize the services these health care professionals provide.
Schools also serve as an important pathway to coverage for low-income children by helping their families enroll them in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. In addition to using Medicaid to cover costs of outreach and enrollment activities, schools use the program to help connect children to services they need outside school. Forty percent of school superintendents reported that they use Medicaid funding to help refer children to such services, including mental health services and food assistance.
The House Republican plan to radically restructure Medicaid would cut federal Medicaid spending by $839 billion over ten years, shifting significant costs and risks to states. To compensate, states would have to increasingly cut Medicaid eligibility, benefits, and provider payments. Given the magnitude of the federal cuts, states would likely have to cut funding for Medicaid services provided in schools, which means it would be hard for schools to maintain their current level of special education and health care spending.
Lawmakers should keep in mind the important role Medicaid plays in schools before crafting policy that puts students at risk.
Jessica Schubel is a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.