School-Based Health Centers Provide Important Access Points for Children’s Health Care

By Lorraine Gonzalez-Camastra, Children’s Defense Fund – NY

As our nation moves to have more Americans gain access to health care by acquiring health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many states are looking to figure out how to meet the capacity of treating those who are newly insured.  Ensuring steady access points for health care are a critical piece in improving the public health of our nation.  Owning coverage is only an initial step toward this goal.

School-based health centers – providers of cost-effective primary medical, dental, mental health, and reproductive health care for children and youth – are invaluable mechanisms that offer comprehensive, affordable care in low-income school communities across the country.

Providing medical services in schools to achieve both child health and school performance objectives has a deep and long history in the United States. The first school-based health centers (Centers) emerged in Cambridge, MA in the 1960s, following President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, which acknowledged the need to focus on health issues among impoverished school-age children.  Since 1970, school-based health centers have grown from just a handful to more than 1,900 in 45 states. Currently, New York State, which houses 223 centers statewide, is one of three states — along with California and Florida — with the

greatest volume of centers.  New York’s financing stream for Centers will shift dramatically in the coming year due to the state’s redesign of its Medicaid program.  Despite this shift in financing, ensuring the sustainability and growth of these Centers as providers of comprehensive care for children and youth is paramount – especially in light of ACA implementation.

In honor of School-based Health Center Awareness Month, we invite you to learn of some critical ways the state of New York can sustain and grow its school-based health center program.  The Children’s Defense Fund – New York’s newly released report, School-based Health Centers in New York State: Ensuring Sustainability and Establishing Opportunities for Growth – provides concrete, workable financing solutions and implementation methodologies for Centers in the new environment of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.  Committing to the sustainability of school-based health centers as providers for children and youth is necessary for New York to continue its dedication to the health and well-being of its youngest residents.