Measuring and Improving Health Care Quality for Children in Medicaid and CHIP: A Primer for Child Health Stakeholders

A large body of evidence shows that, compared to low-income uninsured children, Medicaid has been highly successful in providing children with a usual source of care and regular well-child care while significantly reducing unmet or delayed needs for medical care, dental care, and prescription drugs due to costs. Nonetheless, quality improvement centers on the notion that systematic and continuous actions lead to measurable improvement in health care services and health status. To this end, health care quality improvement efforts in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have accelerated significantly in the past several years largely due to the CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIPRA) and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA). In May 2015, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) also proposed a major modernization of federal rules regarding Medicaid managed care. If enacted, the regulations will have sweeping implications for state quality strategies that extend to all health care delivery mechanisms, including fee-for-service. Provisions in the new rules call for transparency and for states to engage stakeholders in planning and implementation.

Given the acceleration in health care quality improvement and opportunities for stakeholder engagement, this brief is intended as a primer for child health policy and advocacy organizations that want to focus their efforts beyond coverage to ensure that every child enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP receives high quality health care. The goal is to help stakeholders better understand the current state of quality measurement and improvement, specifically as it pertains to children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. It covers a brief history of health care quality efforts, explains the basics of quality measurement and improvement, discusses the challenges in data collection and analysis, and describes how quality improvement initiatives work. Importantly, it discusses the key roles that child health policy and advocacy organizations can play in making sure that our public coverage programs for children deliver high quality health care that advances health outcomes and strives for continuous improvement.

Tricia Brooks is a Research Professor at the Center for Children and Families (CCF), part of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.