Screening for behavioral health issues in children enrolled in massachusetts medicaid

Karen A. Hacker, Robert Penfold, Lisa Arsenault, Fang Zhang, Michael Murphy, Larry Wissow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: To understand mandated behavioral health (BH) screening in Massachusetts Medicaid including characteristics of screened children, predictors of positive screens, and whether screening identifies children without a previous BH history. METHODS: Massachusetts mandated BH screening in particularly among underidentified groups. 2008. Providers used a billing code and modifier to indicate a completed screen and whether a BH need was identified. Using MassHealth claims data, children with ≥300 days of eligibility in fiscal year (FY) 2009 were identified and categorized into groups based on first use of the modifier, screening code, or claim. Bivariate analyses were conducted to determine differences among groups. BH history was examined by limiting the sample to those continuously enrolled in FY 2008 and 2009. Multivariate logistic regression was used to determine predictors of positive screens. RESULTS: Of 355 490 eligible children, 46% had evidence of screening. Of those with modifiers, 12% were positive. Among continuously enrolled children (FY 2008 and FY 2009) with evidence of screening, 43% with positive modifiers had no BH history. This "newly identified" group were more likely to be female, younger, minority, and from rural residences (P < .0001). Among children with modifiers; gender (male), age (5-7), being in foster care, recent BH history, and Hispanic ethnicity predicted having a positive modifier. CONCLUSIONS: The high rate of newly identified Medicaid children with a BH need suggests that screening is performing well, particularly among underidentified groups. To better assess screening value, future work on cost-effectiveness and the impact on subsequent mental health treatment is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-54
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioral health
  • Medicaid
  • Primary care
  • Screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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