HHS announces $14.2 million from American Rescue Plan to expand pediatric mental healthcare access

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, is making available approximately $ 14.2 million from the American Rescue Plan to expand access to pediatric mental health services by integrating telehealth services into primary care for children.

The funding will expand pediatric mental health access projects to new states and geographic areas in the US, including in tribal areas.

Once established, the new national and regional networks of pediatric mental health teams will provide teleconsultation, training, technical assistance and care coordination to pediatric primary care providers to diagnose, treat and refer children and adolescents with mental and substance use disorders.

According to HHS, there are currently 21 PMCHA projects in the country.


The move was inspired by children’s mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, which involves a series of emotional and behavioral challenges, according to the agency. These challenges mainly affect lower income families or those facing other obstacles in the care sector.

Essentially, what the new program expansion hopes to achieve is to use technology to improve access to mental and behavioral health care for children and to connect pediatric caregivers with children and families who may need specialized care.

Research shows there is a greater need for pediatric mental and behavioral health care. In the US, about 22% of children ages 3 to 17 are currently affected by some kind of mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral condition, according to HHS. Only about 20% of children with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders receive care from a specialist healthcare provider.

The pediatric mental healthcare teams will consist of child and adolescent psychiatrists, licensed mental health professionals and care coordinators. Pediatric primary care providers can include pediatricians, general practitioners, nurses, doctor’s assistants, and care coordinators. Teams will use telecare to consult pediatric primary care providers.


Access to mental health services has been in the spotlight in recent weeks and months as the pandemic has highlighted not only the need for such services, but also Americans’ struggles when it comes to using them.

For example, the public health emergency continues to impact beneficiaries of the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as well as the use of health services, according to data released this week by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In particular, Americans have renounced primary, preventive, and mental health visits.

According to data collected from March to October 2020, occupancy rates for some treatments have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but mental health services have shown the slowest recovery.

This slow resurgence in use comes at a time when preliminary evidence shows that mental health problems have worsened across the country. The gap in the use of services resulting from the PHE, especially for mental health services, can have a significant impact on long-term health outcomes.

On Wednesday, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced it would distribute $ 3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding – the largest aggregate amount of funding to date for its mental health and substance use blocking programs, according to HHS.

The Community Mental Health Services Block Grant Program and the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Program will each distribute $ 1.5 billion across states and territories, the latter also allocating money to a tribe. This follows the March announcement of additional funding of nearly $ 2.5 billion for these programs.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an operations arm of HHS, has accelerated federal funding to beneficiaries to help communities grappling with mental health and substance use needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the field of telecare, the pandemic is causing an increasing demand, which is why consumers are increasingly looking for virtual care. The search extends to behavioral health services, according to a March report from health insurance company Cigna.


“Families now more than ever need mental and behavioral health care for their children, but significant disparities remain in access to this treatment,” said acting HRSA administrator Diana Espinosa. “The expansion of the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program paves the way for more children to receive necessary mental health care, especially those in disadvantaged communities.”

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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