CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire schools can now start getting federal money to provide mental health counseling, speech therapy and other services to more students.

In the past, the Medicaid to Schools program applied only to students with Individual Education Plans.

But after the federal government revised its guidance, lawmakers expanded the program last year to cover any Medicaid-eligible student with medical needs.

The bill required the state Department of Health and Human Services to start working on the changes by Sept. 1, 2017. After parents and advocates expressed frustration in late July that the expansion hadn’t been implemented, Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said temporary rules are now in place that will allow schools to begin billing early in the 2018-19 school year.

“Schools play an important role in shaping children’s futures by not only ensuring their educational needs are met, but also ensuring children’s physical and behavioral needs are met,” he said in a statement. “Changes to the Medicaid to Schools program support schools’ role by expanding the number of schoolchildren served and the services available.”

Nearly two-thirds of New Hampshire schools participated in the more limited program in 2017 and were reimbursed for more than $28 million.

The department will begin the formal process to adopt new rules in September, Meyers said. That process will include opportunities for the public and stakeholders to weigh in.

The Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative has been a strong proponent of the expanded program, calling it an important part of the effort to create a comprehensive system of care for children with behavioral health needs. Becky Whitley, the group’s policy coordinator, said the temporary rules are particularly timely as the state grapples with a mental health and substance use crisis.

“The expanded program will allow school districts to better support children and their families by enabling the districts to be reimbursed for providing medically necessary services to all Medicaid-eligible students,” she said. “Students with behavioral health needs will be better supported, as substance use disorder and mental health services are included in the expansion. We look forward to working with NH DHHS as they move forward into the formal rulemaking process.”

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