Bipartisan legislation to fix the fractured healthcare system for North Carolina’s foster families has been introduced in both the House and Senate.
But with the 2023 legislative session ending, neither bill has yet to pass.
And while the Senate included the reforms in its budget, there is no guarantee they will be included in the final budget that is currently being worked on by both chambers.
Thankfully, there is still time.
The reforms would ensure that children and families, have access to a continuous, broad range of physical and behavioral health services regardless of where in the state they live.
They would do so by authorizing DHHS to move forward with a statewide healthcare plan for families and children in the foster care system.
This is important for quality of care and costs.
Currently, quality is negatively impacted due to the regional nature of the system.
Healthcare for foster children is managed by local entities known as LME-MCOs.
LME-MCOs have local networks of doctors and support personnel.
And while locally focused care may seem like a good idea, it presents several quality control problems.
First and foremost, not all local networks are created equal.
Children and families in rural areas often cannot get the support and resources available to those in urban areas.
Secondly, children in the foster care system are mobile, often moving from one region to another.
As children move from one regional network of care to another, it causes care to be disrupted, duplicated or both.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), “[o]ne of the most significant challenges to service delivery for children, youth and families served by the child welfare system is disruption in provider relationships” due to the regional nature of the system.
Costs are also negatively impacted by the regional system.
Duplicative and disrupted care is inefficient and more expensive.
Foster children are already one of the higher-cost populations for healthcare needs.
Those costs are compounded when tests are lost, immunizations are given multiple times, and previous conditions are poorly documented and shared.
Those excess costs are passed onto taxpayers and healthcare consumers.
Moving to a statewide system means better care for children and families, a more efficient use of tax dollars, and an end to the urban-rural divide that right now plagues the system.
And perhaps most important, it will help keep families together. “Family preservation,” it has been shown, requires access to care that promotes “positive outcomes and family well-being.”
There is still time to get these reforms passed. And for thousands of children and families across our state, it’s essential they get done.