The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released data highlighting the continued impact the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) is having on Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiaries and utilization of health services. The data show that, from March through October 2020, beneficiaries have foregone millions of primary, preventive, and mental health care visits due to the COVID-19 PHE, compared to the same time period in 2019. Although utilization rates for some treatments have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, mental health services show the slowest rebound.
This decline in utilization is occurring at a time when preliminary evidence shows mental health conditions have worsened nationwide. The gap in service utilization due to the PHE, particularly for mental health services, may have a substantial impact on long-term health outcomes. Medicaid and CHIP-funded mental health services, in addition to primary and preventative services, cover the majority of children, people living in poverty, and those with special health care needs. Medicaid and CHIP also cover millions of racial and ethnic minorities.
The Biden-Harris Administration has declared their commitment to achieving mental health parity, expanding access to mental health care, and eliminating mental health stigmas. In addition to improving access to mental health services provided to Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan provided funding to address mental health and substance use challenges, including $3 billion in funding for block grants to address mental health and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery services. This is alongside $1.4 billion to support the mental health needs of health care professionals and first responders, as well as funding specifically for pediatric mental health.