Vital Signs: National and State-Specific Patterns of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Treatment Among Insured Children Aged 2-5 Years - United States, 2008-2014

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016 May 6;65(17):443-50. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6517e1.


Background: Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with adverse outcomes and elevated societal costs. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2011 guidelines recommend "behavior therapy" over medication as first-line treatment for children aged 4-5 years with ADHD; these recommendations are consistent with current guidelines from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for younger children. CDC analyzed claims data to assess national and state-level ADHD treatment patterns among young children.

Methods: CDC compared Medicaid and employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) claims for "psychological services" (the procedure code category that includes behavior therapy) and ADHD medication among children aged 2-5 years receiving clinical care for ADHD, using the MarketScan commercial database (2008-2014) and Medicaid (2008-2011) data. Among children with ESI, ADHD indicators were compared during periods preceding and following the 2011 AAP guidelines.

Results: In both Medicaid and ESI populations, the percentage of children aged 2-5 years receiving clinical care for ADHD increased over time; however, during 2008-2011, the percentage of Medicaid beneficiaries receiving clinical care was double that of ESI beneficiaries. Although state percentages varied, overall nationally no more than 55% of children with ADHD received psychological services annually, regardless of insurance type, whereas approximately three fourths received medication. Among children with ESI, the percentage receiving psychological services following release of the guidelines decreased significantly by 5%, from 44% in 2011 to 42% in 2014; the change in medication treatment rates (77% in 2011 compared with 76% in 2014) was not significant.

Conclusions and comments: Among insured children aged 2-5 years receiving clinical care for ADHD, medication treatment was more common than receipt of recommended first-line treatment with psychological services. Among children with ADHD who had ESI, receipt of psychological services did not increase after release of the 2011 guidelines. Scaling up evidence-based behavior therapy might lead to increased delivery of effective ADHD management without the side effects of ADHD medications.

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / therapy*
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use
  • Child, Preschool
  • Health Benefit Plans, Employee / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Insurance Claim Reporting
  • Insurance Coverage*
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medicaid / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Societies, Medical
  • United States


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants