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Schools Ask for Easier Access to Medicaid for Special Education Services

Schools tap Medicaid for more than $1.6 billion each year to pay for services for some students with disabilities. Physical, occupational, and speech therapy, mental health services, transportation, and counseling could be covered if a student's education plan says they need these things.

But, said John Hill of the National Alliance on Medicaid in Education, schools could be missing out on possibly billions more, money that instead comes out of school district budgets and federal special education money, because of paperwork required to claim the Medicaid funds.

The federal Education Department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has proposed changing the paperwork rules to make things easier on schools. The proposal entails letting schools ask parents far less frequently for permission to tap Medicaid for services their child's education plan says they need.

Mr. Hill said many school districts forgo trying to bill Medicaid because of the paperwork: Current rules say they must ask parents' permission each time they would submit bills, which could be as often as once or twice a month.

A survey by his group found that one district let go about $2 million in Medicaid money rather than pay for mailings to get parents' consent. Another district spent $4,075 to send about 5,200 requests to parents for consent to bill Medicaid. A little less than a third of the parents responded. Yet another district reported to Mr. Hill's organization that, in addition to lost federal match dollars, trying to obtain parents' consent to use Medicaid dollars cost them almost $15,000 in postage, and more than half the forms mailed weren't returned.

The Medicaid money doesn't determine if a student gets their services, Mr. Hill said. That's governed by their education plan. But with school districts nationwide strapped for cash and special education under attack for being too costly, "this is just chasing potential reimbursement."

Other agencies that bill Medicaid don't have to ask permission so frequently, Mr. Hill said. The proposal, upon which anyone can comment through Dec. 12, would require school districts to get permission from parents just once.

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