United States Public Health Services Helping Children with Disabilities

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Children with disabilities have been recognized as a vulnerable demographic and are receiving increased forms of aid from both federal offerings (including Medicaid) and from state initiatives that vary across the country. This article will explore a few examples of state-funded aid resources available to children with disabilities.

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Types of Disabilities That Afflict Children

Children categorized as having a disability may suffer from a wide range of conditions. These include genetic conditions existing at birth, including Down syndrome, and behavioral and neurological conditions that are demonstrated as the child develops, such as autism. Other children can receive disability status if they require special assistance following a debilitating injury or after suffering from an illness or disease, such as cancer.

Initiatives Developed to Aid Children with Disabilities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provides federal funding for the development of a wide array of health initiatives and programming, offered a funding opportunity for health care programs that worked with patients (including pediatric populations) with disabilities. That is CDC-RFA-DD16-1603: Improving the Health of People with Mobility Limitations and Intellectual Disabilities through State-based Public Health Programs (aka State Disability and Health Programs). This grant is part of a perennial effort to fund the development of programs designed to increase chronic disease prevention and health promotion, specifically for people with mobility limitations and/or intellectual disabilities. Award funds provided by this particular funding opportunity made available in early 2016 could be applied toward evaluating current care provision, as well as the development, execution and evaluation of new programs and activities meant to benefit patients with disabilities. Nineteen states were selected as recipients of the funding.

These incentives are part of an effort to reduce disparities in the care available to those with disabilities as opposed to those without. In addition to the CDC’s efforts, many entities at the state and federal levels provide services for children with disabilities as highlighted by the five state examples listed below. Four of the five states listed below are current recipients of the State Disability and Health Programs grant.

  • New York
    One of New York’s primary goals with its CDC funding allowance will be to institute an inclusion policy, which will require all funded Center for Community Health facilities to ensure equal opportunities to funding and resources for participants with and without disabilities. The state will also focus on training its staff, management, contractors and other team members throughout its health and care provision networks about the realities of health disabilities to promote better care and awareness.
  • Rhode Island
    A special point of concentration in Rhode Island’s CDC funding utilization plan involves the transition in health resources from pediatric care to adult care as patients grow. The plan includes strategically developing a framework for this process that incentivizes industrious and proactive effort on the part of the patient in facilitating his or her development. Rhode Island also plans to increase the public health programs and resources that provide services to people with disabilities. These types of resources include access to health facilities, preparedness and prevention awareness programs, and screening programs.
  • New Hampshire
    The efforts of New Hampshire, another recipient of the 2016 CDC funding award, will include developing training resources and events for families, patients and medical professionals in the treatment and care of patients with disabilities. New Hampshire’s plan also incorporates partnerships with independent organizations and institutions that provide resources and care for people with disabilities, outfitting those institutions with technology and resources to better facilitate their work.
  • Florida
    Florida was one of the 19 states that received the CDC grant in 2016. The Florida Department of Health has instituted a program called the Disability and Health Program (DHP) toward which the CDC grant will be applied. Resources will be used to improve access to physical activity and healthy food options for students in Exceptional Student Education facilities to attempt to equalize the resources available to students with disabilities and those without. The DHP will also implement programs to increase disabled persons’ knowledge of, and access to, health services. Strategies for increasing inclusion of the disabled into health programming will be developed and implemented to help balance the ratio of disabled persons versus nondisabled persons utilizing health resources across the state. Finally, the DHP plans to increase training and education for healthcare personnel so that they are better equipped to serve patients with disabilities.
  • California
    Unlike the previous four states listed, California did not receive the CDC grant this past year. However, the state provides its disabled residents resources and support via state-level programming. The Child Health and Disability Prevention Program, facilitated by the California Department of Health Care Services, is a component of the health care services offered to children by the state of California. This program provides screening tests and health care for low-income children throughout the state. California also provides another health care resource through the Medi-Cal program, California’s version of Medicaid, called Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT). California Children’s Services, a similar state-offered program, covers health expenses accrued by a child with a covered disability, including forms of mental disorders, hearing loss, eye diseases and musculoskeletal diseases.

The Future of Services for Children with Disabilities

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s July 2017 issue briefing on Medicaid restructuring as it pertains to children with disabilities, the current structure of Medicaid subjects low-income children with disabilities to a per-capita dollar amount cap, which may limit the coverage of necessary care. Potential reforms to the Medicaid system, however, including the Better Care Reconciliation Act proposed in the Senate, could lift restrictions to the aid that children with disabilities and their caretakers would be eligible to receive.

As political changes make vast alterations to the public health care landscape, aid and funding for caring for children with disabilities may change over the coming years. Public health services in the form of networks, programs and organizations have been instituted by not just federal but also state and external sources. Law professionals who work on medical cases, especially involving children, must maintain an in-depth understanding of the current federal offerings, legal precedents and the differences among states with regard to what is available and should be paid for by state and federal services.

Recommended Readings:
Providing for People with Disability: A Major Public Health Issue
Why Registered Nurses Should Understand Health Care Law
Important Steps for Health Care Compliance in 2017

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Improving the Health of People with Mobility Limitations and Intellectual Disabilities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – State Disability and Health Programs
CA.Gov – CCS Medical Eligibility
CA.Gov – Child Health and Disability Prevention Program
CA.Gov – Medi-Cal
CA.Gov – Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT)
Florida Health
Kaiser Family Foundation
U.S. National Library of Medicine