Medicaid in Schools

School-based Medicaid programs support students and educators

Financing student health services can be difficult for school districts faced with ever-tightening budgets. State Medicaid programs—and federal contributions to Medicaid, which cover at least half of spending—have been instrumental in ensuring consistent financing. Since 1988, Medicaid dollars in schools have supported:

  • Equipment, including wheelchairs, lifts and therapeutic bicycles;
  • High-quality physical and mental health services such as targeted case management, health education, cognitive behavioral therapy, catheterization, audiology and physical therapy;
  • Medical transportation for select students with individual education programs;
  • Program administration, which can include helping eligible families enroll and even translations for diverse populations; and
  • Salaries for health professionals, such as speech pathologists, occupational therapists and school nurses.

In December 2014, a federal reinterpretation of the concept of “free care” also made it easier to reimburse schools for health services that are not related to special education needs. Schools that offer services under the comprehensive Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment benefit, such as screening for lead exposure and oral health checkups, may have an easier time financing student healthcare.

Kids in Medicaid see health and education benefits.  In an average year, just 1 percent of Medicaid spending supports an estimated 5 million students. Timely access to student health services helps schools address key conditions for learning, ultimately maximizing instructional time and better preparing students to learn. In the long-term, Medicaid has also been linked to:

  • Reduced high school dropouts and increased college completion;
  • Reduced rates of risky sexual activity;
  • Reduced substance abuse; and
  • Reduced body mass index, an indicator of obesity.

Daily and over the trajectory of eligible students’ lives, Medicaid in schools directly supports AFT members’ top priorities in children’s health: mental health promotion and improved access to care.