CMS chief Verma calls for action over declines in child health services during pandemic

Newly released CMS data points to a troubling trend of stark declines in vaccinations and service use rates for primary and preventive care since the start of the pandemic among young Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries, officials for the agency say.

A preliminary data “snapshot” released by CMS on Wednesday shows a 22% drop in vaccinations received by children age 2 and younger covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program between March and May this year compared to the same period in 2019. That totals to about 1.7 million fewer vaccinations.

The analysis found a 44% decline in children screenings to assess for physical and cognitive development issues and a 69% decrease in the number of dental procedures performed.

On a call with reporters, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said the findings were a call to action for state and local governments, schools, healthcare providers and families to work together to address the care gap by encouraging parents to access services.

“Providers should conduct active outreach to make sure families understand it is safe to come back to the office to receive care,” Verma said.

Nearly 40 million children are covered by Medicaid and CHIP, with those programs covering three quarters of children living in poverty and approximately four in 10 with special healthcare needs.

Verma said the role schools play in providing vulnerable children access to preventative health services like vaccinations was a key reason why she said she supported the safe reopening of as many schools as possible and for reopened school to form a plan on how they will address foregone required medical services.

But questions still remain as to whether it is safe to reopen schools, and if so, how to do it safely to prevent causing further spread of COVID-19, which this week surpassed 200,000 deaths.

The data is the latest evidence that shows a general decline in utilization of preventive services since the start of the outbreak as social distancing effort have led many providers to limit “non-essential services” while fears over contracting the virus have led patients and parents to forego routine services like immunizations, which health experts fear increase the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and mumps.


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