New Data from CMS Shows Mental Health Services for Children Continue to Lag Behind Pre-Pandemic Levels

This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released an update to its Medicaid and CHIP COVID-19 data snapshot with new data through January 2022. Unfortunately, as highlighted in the snapshot, while the number of mental health services provided to adults during the public health emergency nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels, the rate of mental health services for children have continued to lag.

According to the preliminary CMS data, the rate of mental health services for children under age 19 covered by Medicaid and CHIP declined throughout the public health emergency and remained below pre-pandemic levels. Overall, when comparing the public health emergency period of March 2020 through January 2022 to the pre-pandemic period, CMS notes that there were approximately 23 percent fewer – that’s 27.3 million – mental health services for children under age 19. While data for recent months are likely to be adjusted upward due to lags in claims data, CMS’s latest update to its Medicaid and CHIP COVID-19 data snapshot continues to call attention to continued gaps in mental health care for children.

CMS does not directly opine on the causes of the gap in services in its snapshot, however, such findings continue to emphasize that additional attention specifically focused on children’s mental health services is warranted. As we’ve discussed here and here on Say Ahhh!, Congress has taken a number of steps to advance various mental health efforts – including through the recent passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – however, to date, such efforts have largely been limited in the provision of significant new investments or enhanced funding specifically targeted at mental health services for children under Medicaid and CHIP. Medicaid, as the single largest payer of behavioral health care and now (alongside CHIP) covering approximately half of all children in the US, plays an essential role in covering children with mental health needs.

To find the full CMS Medicaid and CHIP COVID-19 data snapshot, click here.

Anne Dwyer is an Associate Research Professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.