Judge Signs Preliminary Settlement in Pennsylvania Lawsuit to Reduce Delays for Child Mental Health Services
A federal judge has signed a preliminary settlement of a class-action lawsuit, filed by the Disabilities Law Project, that charged the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare with delaying services for children with mental health problems who are enrolled in the state's Medicaid program, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Under the settlement, the state has no longer than 60 days to provide behavioral health services to children with mental illnesses. The legal dispute centered on "wrap-around" health services, which provide "one-on-one attention" from trained experts to children with illnesses such as depression, autism or severe attention-deficit disorder. According to the Inquirer, wrap-around services can help families face the "daunting challenge" of raising children with such illnesses and "head off" hospitalization by addressing behavioral problems at an early stage. While Pennsylvania's Medicaid program must fund wrap-around services prescribed by a psychologist or psychiatrist, the lawsuit argued that many children waited "for a long time" to receive treatment. According to Disabilities Law Project attorney Rachel Mann, the settlement includes a plan to increase the number of available behavioral health service workers by training people with only two years of college education, rather than the current requirement of a four-year degree. Mann also said that the settlement would force the state welfare department to track both the number of children eligible for services and delays in providing services. About 19,000 children in Pennsylvania currently use wrap-around services, but the number of children "waiting or eligible" for the services remains unclear. State welfare department spokesperson Jay Pagni said that the "rapidly expanding program" cost the state $222 million last year, up from $2 million in 1993. Officials attributed the "explosion" in the number of children using wrap-around services to a "growing awareness" about children's mental disorders and the effectiveness of certain treatments (Vedantam, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.