Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Often Go Untreated for Parents on Medicaid

The News

For parents struggling with mental health or substance use disorders, access to treatment can often mean the difference between keeping and losing their children. But a new analysis of health and child welfare records found that a significant portion of those who were eligible for Medicaid coverage for such treatment were not getting it.

The analysis, published Friday by researchers at the nonprofit institute RTI International and the Department of Health and Human Services, found that fewer than half of parents on Medicaid who had substance use disorders and had been referred to authorities over suspicions of child abuse or neglect had received treatment.

A temporary shelter in Brooklyn.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Some Context: Experts say bad situations can often be reversed with treatment.

Both mental health and drug addiction crises have been roiling the country, and the effects of parental drug use and mental illness can quickly trickle down to their children. Public health experts say substance use disorders can incapacitate a previously diligent parent and lead to the involvement of child protective services.

In 2021 alone, more than seven million children were referred to authorities over worries of maltreatment, according to a federal report, and more than 200,000 were removed from their homes. But research shows that when parents seek treatment for psychiatric and substance use disorders, they are far less likely to experience family separation.

The Numbers: What the researchers found.

To calculate treatment rates among parents on Medicaid, the health insurance program for low income people, Tami Mark, a health economist at RTI, who led the research, and her colleagues drew from a new publicly available data set that used de-identified social security numbers to link child welfare records in Florida and Kentucky with corresponding Medicaid claims records from 2020.

For comparison, they also analyzed a random sample of Medicaid recipients who had no records in the child welfare system. (The study didn’t capture any counseling or medication given outside the Medicaid system, nor any cases of mental health or substance use disorders that were undiagnosed.)

Back to top button