Berman Introduces Bill to Create Office of School-Based Health Programs to Meet Needs of Students

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO, CA – Today Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), along with joint author Assemblymember James C. Ramos and coauthors Senators Susan Talamantes Eggman and Henry Stern, introduced Assembly Bill 563, which would, by July 1, 2022, establish a new office within the California Department of Education to ensure greater access to health care services at schools and draw down more federal funds.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in health care and education and highlighted the need for student health and mental health services,” said Assemblymember Marc Berman. “Establishing the Office of School-Based Heath Programs will ensure a coordinated approach to assist schools in meeting the increased demand for student health and mental health services while using federal dollars and preserving state and local resources—a win-win.”

Through a program called the Local Educational Agency (LEA) Medi-Cal Billing Option Program (Program), K-12 schools have been eligible for federal reimbursement for direct health care services such as health evaluations, physician services, and mental health and counseling services to name a few. These school-based health services play a key role in ensuring that California students are healthy, safe, and ready to learn. Yet California has historically lagged behind other states in the amount of federal reimbursement it receives.

In fact, a September 2020 State Auditor report stated that LEAs have not consistently used the Program to obtain federal reimbursement for providing health services, including mental health. This Program represents a significant potential source of funds for LEAs, yet the State Auditor found that only 600 of the state’s 2,400 LEAs participate. Given the current challenges that students are facing, now more than ever there is an opportunity for the California Department of Education to play a vital role in increasing school participation and assisting schools that are currently providing health care services to their Medi-Cal students.

Additionally, to run smoothly and maximize funding, schools need support from state agencies responsible for both health and education. However, in California, there is no institutionalized partnership between the Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal, and the California Department of Education to coordinate health programs and services delivered through schools. The Office of School-Based Health Programs would fill this gap. The Office would facilitate coordination between these entities in order to maximize federal reimbursement and provide health care services to more students in California.

The bill is similar to AB 1322 from 2019 and is co-sponsored by the California School-Based Health Alliance, the California School Nurses Organization, the California School Boards Association, Teachers for Healthy Kids, and the California Association of Student Councils.

“It is more important than ever for health and education to work together in order to meet the tidal wave of student health and mental health needs. California's 293 school-based health centers know how important it is to work between the siloes of health and education to make health care accessible to the students who need it most. The California School-Based Health Alliance is excited to continue working with Assemblyman Berman to ensure that there is partnership and coordination between our state agencies at this critical moment,” said Tracy Mendez, Executive Director of the California School-Based Health Alliance. 

“Previous to July 2020, school districts could only be reimbursed for health services provided to Special Education students or 12% of students. In July, the federal government agreed to reimburse schools for services to all Medi-Cal eligible students, or over 50% of the school aged population. Currently health services are located within the Special Education unit at CDE. With this expansion, it is time to create a place to serve all students,” said Hellan Roth Dowden of Teachers for Healthy Kids.

“Children come to school every day suffering from mental health issues, poor nutrition, asthma, diabetes, and other conditions that seriously impact their ability to succeed. Schools are a critical partner in providing health services to students. California presently does not have a formal inter-agency relationship with the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) which oversees the Medi-Cal program.  With the new expansion, we believe the time is now to fully develop and formalize the relationship between DHCS and CDE. We look forward to working with Assemblyman Berman to make this relationship a reality,” said California School Nurses Organization President Pam Kahn.

“Through the COVID-19 pandemic, where students are increasingly disconnected from their teachers and peers, millions of California students are struggling with their mental health in isolation. California is falling behind in providing the right mental health services to its students. This bill, with the robust leadership from Assemblymember Marc Berman, aims to assist our schools in maximizing its services and support of young people. The California Association of Student Councils is proud to join a coalition of advocacy groups prioritizing youth mental health in this once-in-a-lifetime crisis,” said Jason Chen, Governmental Affairs Policy Director for the California Association of Student Councils.

 

Contact: Kaitlin Curry, (916) 319-2024