Medicaid Forward: Report highlights mental health & addiction as key areas of response during and after the pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. & OAKLAND, CA–– FEB. 25, 2021 –– The National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD), a bipartisan, nonprofit, professional organization representing leaders of state Medicaid agencies across the country, today released the first of a three-part series of reports aimed at communicating the critical role Medicaid will play as the nation looks toward recovery from the pandemic and the country’s “new normal.”

The initial report, Medicaid Forward: Behavioral Health, focuses on the realities of mental health and addiction for the roughly 77 million Americans who now use Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program to access the health care they need – enrollment grew by 6.6 million since the start of the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, Medicaid covered more than 11 million adults with diagnosed mental illnesses.

“State Medicaid directors have been on the front lines of the pandemic response for a year now, and a central part of the health care safety net for more than five decades. People experiencing poverty, people living with disabilities – many of whom have multiple underlying health conditions – and people working to provide essential services have been hit hardest by the pandemic and are most likely to rely on Medicaid,” said Matt Salo, NAMD Executive Director. “Mental health and addiction issues are increasing in the communities Medicaid serves, just like they are in all communities across the nation. Medicaid programs have been addressing mental health needs for these difficult-to-serve populations for decades and have the unique experience, relationships and expertise needed to help chart the course for a stronger American future.”

With the support of Well Being Trust – a national foundation dedicated to advancing the mental, social, and spiritual health of the nation – Medicaid Forward: Behavioral Health details how health care for children is an escalating challenge Medicaid and the CHIP programs are capable of addressing. More than 37 million children and young people are enrolled in either Medicaid or CHIP, and many of these children have experienced social isolation due to school closures.

Among other issues, the report explains how the secondary trauma of watching their parents and caregivers deal with the economic and health ramifications of COVID is impacting today’s youth. Compared with 2019, mental health-related visits have increased by 24 percent in children ages 5 through 11 and 31 percent for those aged 12 through 17.
Medicaid can help the American health care system rise to meet these kids’ needs. How is detailed in Medicaid Forward: Behavioral Health which provides evidence-backed, sustainable policy and program solutions to improve Medicaid members’ mental health and well-being and support Medicaid programs during these unprecedented times.

“As the largest payer for mental health and addiction services in the United States, Medicaid is a powerful tool with the potential to truly transform how our states approach financing and delivering mental health care,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Miller, chief strategy officer of Well Being Trust. “We hope that state Medicaid directors will use this report to drive meaningful behavioral health changes in their own backyards, and in so doing, inspire others to follow suit.”

In addition to strategies that specifically help children, Medicaid Forward: Behavioral Health highlights another way that the program will be essential to recovery from the pandemic. Medicaid pays providers, hospitals, long term care facilities and other components of our health care infrastructure more than $600 billion each year, making it a critical funder of the health care system that serves all Americans – including other populations discussed in the report, like older adults, individuals who are homeless, people living with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and those who are in the criminal justice system.

The report includes real-life examples of communities that have demonstrated the success of these approaches. For example, California is working to prevent addiction by screening Medicaid members for Adverse Childhood Experiences, the toxic stress that can create lifelong mental health challenges. Colorado is increasing service accessibility by allowing Medicaid members to have six visits with a licensed behavioral health provider in a primary care setting independent of a covered behavioral health condition diagnosis, and Arizona has a crisis hotline that Arizonans across the state can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and treatment centers where they can receive crisis services.

“NAMD is releasing Medicaid Forward: Behavioral Health at a critical time – as states are looking to recover and rebound from COVID and the related health care challenges. I am pleased the association is supporting Medicaid leaders as we contribute to our national recovery,” said Jami Snyder, Director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and incoming president of NAMD’s Board.

“Medicaid programs like ours have been improving the way we meet the mental health needs of our members for over a decade. Because of our ongoing efforts, Arizona has been well-positioned to respond to the challenges of this past year,” Snyder added.

For more information on NAMD’s Medicaid Forward series, visit:

About Well Being Trust
Well Being Trust is a national foundation dedicated to advancing the mental, social, and spiritual health of the nation. Created to include participation from organizations across sectors and perspectives, Well Being Trust is committed to innovating and addressing the most critical mental health challenges facing America, and to transforming individual and community well-being Twitter: @WellBeingTrust

About the National Association of Medicaid Directors
The National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) is a bipartisan, nonprofit, professional organization representing leaders of state Medicaid agencies across the country. NAMD supports Medicaid Directors in administering the program in cost-effective, efficient and visionary ways that enable the over 77 million Americans served by Medicaid to achieve their best health and to thrive in their communities. NAMD does this by offering programs for Medicaid Directors, elevating the consensus issues of Directors in the federal policy process, and serving as the trusted source for data and information about Directors. Learn more at and follow NAMD on Twitter @statemedicaid.
Media Contacts:
Amy Shields
Communications Director 
Well Being Trust

Matt Salo
Executive Director, NAMD