CMS: Mental health services decline by double-digits for Medicaid, CHIP beneficiaries last year

A mother is talking with a mental health professional via web conference at home while her children are playing in the background.
New data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show telehealth services increased by 2,700% last year, but officials worry if it was enough to recover from a major decline in utilization. (recep-bg/GettyImages)

Mental health services used by children and adults declined by double-digits from March through October 2020 compared to the same periods in 2019, new data show.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the findings Friday and emphasized that the decline could impact long-term health outcomes. The data looked at use of mental health services on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

“The new data provides a window into the impacts of the pandemic for marginalized communities—particularly children and other vulnerable people—and is critical as we work towards meeting the needs of those that rely on Medicaid and CHIP,” said CMS acting Administrator Liz Richter in a statement Friday.

The data show that children under 19 had a 34% decline in the number of mental health services used compared to 2019. The number of mental health services used by adults also declined by 22%.

“This translates to approximately 14 million fewer mental health services for children and approximately 12 million fewer mental health services for adults,” CMS said in a release.

There was another 13% decline in the use of substance abuse disorder treatments compared to 2019.

Healthcare use plummeted across all types of care during the pandemic as hospitals were forced to postpone or cancel elective procedures and patients were reluctant to go to doctors’ offices for fear of contracting the virus.

Preliminary data reported by CMS show there were 9% fewer childhood vaccinations delivered from March to October 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. There were also 21% fewer screening services.

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However, utilization for primary and preventive services for children under 16 have recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

“While this recovery is encouraging, millions of services still need to be delivered to make up for those missed between March and October 2020,” the agency said.

CMS also released data on the use of telehealth among Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries, showing the number of services delivered via telehealth increased by 2,700% from March to October of last year.

“However, this increase has not been enough to offset the decline in service utilization in other areas,” the agency said.