Legislation that would reform how foster children access healthcare has been introduced in the North Carolina State Senate.

The bipartisan bill 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.

Such a change is long overdue.

Currently, children and families in foster care are subject to a regional healthcare system that often prevents them from getting high-quality, well-coordinated care.

In the regional system, care is managed by entities known as LME-MCOs. These organizations have local networks of doctors and support personnel.

While locally focused care may seem like a good idea, it presents several problems for children and families in foster care.

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.  

The Senate bill fixes these problems by authorizing DHHS to move forward with a statewide healthcare plan for families and children in the foster care system.

Moving to a statewide plan will “enable children, youth and families to access a continuous, broad range of physical and behavioral health services regardless of their location in the state.

It will also allow children and families to “maintain their provider and care manager relationships and their treatment plans when they experience a change in placement or care transition.

That 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.”

The current system is broken. And every day it goes unfixed is a day that children in North Carolina don’t get the healthcare they need.

The North Carolina General Assembly should pass this legislation as soon as possible so a statewide plan for foster children can be implemented.

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