Since the outset of the COVID-19 public health crisis more than two years ago, it has become increasingly clear that the pandemic has had significant negative impacts on the mental wellbeing of children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 children experience a mental health disorder, a figure which has only been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.
As the largest payer of mental health care in the U.S., Medicaid helps provide nearly 39 million children and their families with access to a broad range of mental health services. Medicaid managed care plans are working to enhance the mental health of many children covered under the program.
Modern Medicaid Alliance partner Centene recently released a white paper, “Safeguarding Mental Wellbeing in Children,” highlighting the numerous programs that the organization has implemented to protect mental health in children, including addressing social determinants of health and other critical factors that impact mental health.
Addressing Adverse Childhood Events
The impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can be carried well into adulthood, manifesting as mental health challenges, physical health issues, or drug misuse. To address the correlation between ACEs and drug misuse later in life, Centene Institute for Advanced Health Education created the OpiEnd® Youth Challenge for teenagers and young adults to raise awareness about opioid misuse and prevention.
Data has shown that children in foster care are exposed to ACEs more frequently than other children with Medicaid. Among Medicaid beneficiaries, children in foster care have higher rates of diagnosed mental health disorders and are prescribed medication four times higher than the general Medicaid child population — with some children prescribed three or more medications.
Without proper treatment interventions including medication management, a child’s physical and behavioral development may be significantly affected. Through Centene’s Behavioral Health Medication Monitoring (BHMM) program, a comprehensive review of their treatment by a clinician can help determine alterative therapeutics and other care practices.
Tackling Isolation and Loneliness
While virtual learning amplified feelings of loneliness and isolation for many children during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, returning to school has increased feelings of anxiety and social discomfort. Centene delivers two programs to educate children on the importance of taking care of their mental health.
The No One Eats Alone Day program works with local schools to raise awareness about social isolation and its impact on a child’s life. The Centene Charitable Foundation has partnered with Beyond Differences for seven years with local health plans engaging hundreds of schools and thousands of students across the country. Additionally, Centene partners with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and national and local partners on the Strong Youth, Strong Communities (SYSC) initiative which provides resources and tools for teens to build self-confidence and leadership.
Centene’s white paper also highlights how suicide rates among teens were increasing prior to the pandemic but worsened during COVID-19. In response, Centene developed a suicide prevention program called Choose Tomorrow®, which uses predictive modeling to identify suicide risk through data analytics to prompt suicide screening and assessment. Patients also receive personalized care from care managers, who use evidence-based approaches and connect patients to community resources. The program was first implemented among foster youth to intervene in this higher risk population.
COVID-19 reinforced the importance of addressing mental health challenges as early as possible. To help providers screen for mental health conditions in children, Centene maintains a comprehensive library of online training to help with early screening and identification. Centene also maintains school-based intervention partnerships, which offer virtual access to a variety of clinicians in a trusted environment.
The pandemic also highlighted the value of telehealth in improving access to health care. In addition to covering startup costs for some behavioral health providers, Centene has developed innovative new technologies to help managers better track progress and connect patients to providers.
Parent and Caregiver Support
Given the significant role that the mental and physical health of parents and caregivers can have on the mental wellbeing of children, Centene has also supported parents and caregivers throughout the pandemic by:
- Implementing social services technology platforms to connect members with community organizations;
- Donating 1 million meals a month with Feeding America;
- Developing educational materials and resources on children’s mental wellbeing; and
- Distributing Centene’s My Route to Health literature to help encourage health literacy.
While the ongoing impact of COVID-19 will continue to be researched and addressed, the pandemic has made clear that protecting children’s mental wellbeing has never been more important.
For more on how the Modern Medicaid Alliance supports mental health, check out our new Medicaid and Mental Health Toolkit.