All Nebraska children should have the support they need to be healthy and productive as they grow up. Early behavioral health services are proven to be most effective for children, save money, and are required by Medicaid under federal law. On Friday, Nebraska Appleseed, with our partners at the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), filed a class action lawsuit against two officers of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on behalf of two children who have been denied necessary behavioral health treatment recommended by their doctors.
The suit challenges an HHS Medicaid policy that excludes certain treatments for children with developmental disabilities in violation of the federal Medicaid Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Read the full press release. At its heart, this lawsuit is trying to make sure that children with developmental disabilities and autism access the early intervention services they need.
Unfortunately, Nebraska has witnessed the impact of increasing gaps in the behavioral health system for children in recent years. The issue received national attention in 2008 around the state’s safe haven law, and again in the past couple of years as Medicaid denials of mental health services contributed to the financial unsustainability of the state’s child welfare privatization effort.
While the Legislature has made significant efforts to address some of these gaps, one challenge that has persisted is the scope of Medicaid coverage for behavioral therapies for young children with autism or developmental disabilities.
This gap has a dramatic impact on the lives of children and families across our state. Many of them have called our office in the past few years. They have shared their stories with us. The calls have come from loving and tenacious parents who are deeply concerned about their children’s behavioral health needs. Many of them fear for the safety and well being of their children. And they have hit dead ends when Medicaid has denied services that their children’s doctors recommend and deem medically necessary. Too many of these parents face the unspeakable decision of relinquishing custody to the foster care system in order to access services for their children.
At Nebraska Appleseed, we only pursue litigation as a last resort when other avenues of change have been unsuccessful and only after careful examination and research. This is one of those issues. The day has come for these harmful policies to be challenged.