Lawsuit: Louisiana neglected mental health needs for kids in Medicaid

Flag of Louisiana, which contains a pelican mother and three baby pelicans on a blue background with a white ribbon that says "Union Justice Confidence"
Louisiana's Department of Health faces a class-action lawsuit over the stewardship of its Medicaid program. Image: Getty Images/Belyay

Louisiana faces a class-action lawsuit claiming the state’s Medicaid program did not provide mental health services to children in its care.

The lawsuit (PDF) led by the Southern Poverty Law Center said the state failed to provide intensive home and community-based mental health as required by federal law.

"Youth with mental illnesses are unnecessarily segregated from their homes and communities and hospitalized or placed in psychiatric institutions for mental health treatment, in violation of federal disability laws,” said Sophia Mire Hill, staff attorney for the SPLC’s Children’s Rights Practice Group, in a statement.

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The lawsuit is demanding Louisiana create a statewide, integrated system for mental healthcare that can be accessed by Medicaid-eligible young people with mental health needs.

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Between 2014 and 2016, the state dissolved the branch of its Medicaid program tasked with providing mental health. The services were instead moved to a multi-member private system, the law center said.

However, the move didn’t lead to better care coordination as the state hoped.

“Louisiana was left with a privatized, hodgepodge system plagued by inadequate provider networks and nonexistent crisis services, or more plainly, a system that cannot serve the neediest children,” according to a release from the law center, which conducted an investigation into the state’s Medicaid program.

Louisiana’s governor's office did not return a request for comment as of press time.

Access to mental health has become a major problem for the individual market as well. A recent study published in May found that limited provider participation in Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges pose a barrier for access compared to people with employer-sponsored insurance.

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