The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday it was awarding $10.7 million from the American Rescue Plan to integrate telehealth services into pediatric care.
The funding is aimed at expanding behavioral healthcare access for children.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, especially children,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement.
“This critical funding will not only improve the livelihoods of children and their families, but also secure the future of our country,” Becerra continued.
“We will continue to make investments that ensure our youngest Americans grow up strong and healthy,” he added.
WHY IT MATTERS
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 20% of children living in the United States experience a mental or behavioral health condition in a given year.
Unfortunately, says HHS, only about a fifth of those children receive care from a specialized provider – with youth of color less likely to receive adequate services for symptoms of anxiety, depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
With an eye toward addressing such gaps, the $10.7 million will go toward expanding the footprint of the Pediatric Mental Healthcare Access Program, a Health Resources and Service Administration initiative that promotes behavioral health integration into pediatric primary care with telehealth.
Launched in 2018, the program supports networks of teams providing teleconsultation, training, technical assistance and care coordination for providers to diagnose, treat and refer youth with mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
The expansion announced this past week broadens the Pediatric Mental Healthcare Access Program’s reach to 40 states, as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Republic of Palau.
In addition, it also provides support to two tribal areas: the Chickasaw Nation and the Red Lake Band of the Chippewa Indians.
“Primary care providers strive to address the many mental health challenges children and families are experiencing due to the pandemic, but they need more support,” said HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa in a statement.
THE LARGER TREND
Experts have pointed to virtual care as a way to address behavioral health’s supply-and-demand issue, which has only grown direr during the pandemic.
Indeed, many telehealth-related policies enacted during the COVID-19 crisis carve out specification for behavioral care.
For instance, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law this past month requiring insurance reimbursement parity for virtual mental health and substance use disorder services.
ON THE RECORD
“Expanding the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program offers new opportunities for providers to offer families the mental and behavioral health services they need but that often aren’t easily accessible,” said Espinosa in a statement.