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Originally published Friday, August 30, 2013 at 12:08 AM

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State to boost care for Medicaid youths

As part of a settlement of a class-action lawsuit, the state has agreed to provide more in-home and community-based treatment for children and youth who are eligible for Medicaid.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In what all sides hailed as a landmark agreement, the state of Washington has agreed to fundamentally change the way it provides mental-health care to the most troubled children and youth who qualify for Medicaid.

The settlement, which calls for intensive in-home and community-based care, was reached Thursday between the state and attorneys who filed a class-action lawsuit in 2009. The federal suit alleged the state wasn’t providing sufficient care for young people at risk for being placed out of their homes because of mental illness or emotional disorders.

The defendant in the lawsuit was the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Jane Beyer, assistant secretary for the DSHS Behavioral Health and Service Integration Administration, said the settlement meets the desire of the plaintiffs to keep young people out of foster homes and inpatient treatment and allow them to receive support from their families and the community.

An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 children and youth under 21 will be served each year when the program is fully implemented , according to a joint statement from the state and the plaintiffs.

“With this settlement, Washington has committed to build a mental health system that will bring this law to life for all young Medicaid beneficiaries who need intensive mental health services in order to grow up healthy in their own homes, schools, and communities,” said Mark Stroh, executive director of Disability Rights Washington (DRW), in the statement. DRW is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization involved in the litigation.

The settlement is still subject to comment from the parties who brought the suit and approval by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly in Seattle.

Beyer said the state would ask the Legislature in January for funding for the first full year of implementation of the five-year settlement agreement. Costs are still being determined, Beyer said.

Both sides noted several other states lost when they fought similar lawsuits.

“The State of Washington decided that it was not in the best interest of the state or children to litigate,” the statement said.

In the statement, Stroh said Congress has made it clear that, under Medicaid, mental-health treatment shouldn’t be for the “few and the lucky” who happen to get care they need.

David Carlson, DRW’s director of legal advocacy, said the goal of the settlement is to reach young people with the greatest needs before they find themselves entangled with the police, the juvenile-justice system or hospitalized in a state facility.

“We don’t want a school-to-prison pipeline,” Carlson said.

The plan has a great chance for success because of “buy-in” from all sides, he said.

Beyer said in the statement that both sides determined that providing in-home and community services offered the best approach to improving outcomes.

“I think it is an opportunity to provide a set of services that research has shown are effective for children with serious mental health needs and can help them succeed in their schools, in their community and remain with their families,” she said.

Under the program, the state would use what the statement described as a “well-tested assessment tool,” the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS).

Part of the program would require coordinated care by providers, while another would add mobile crisis intervention and stabilization services.

“The key to this settlement was the underlying agreement between the state and the plaintiffs that we can better serve these children,” state Medicaid Director MaryAnne Lindeblad said in the joint statement.

News researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com On Twitter @stevemiletich

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