Autism legislation saw key gains

Minnesota’s 2014 legislative session was successful for persons with autism and their families. The omnibus bill (HF 3172 and SF 2785) contained several provisions including:

A 10% reduction in the parental fees for families whose children with disability, including autism are eligible for medical assistance. Although this fee reduction will benefit thousands of Minnesota families, more work needs to be done to provide relief for children with autism receiving Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA) coverage.

MCHA is scheduled to be eliminated at the end of this year. Legislation related to the Medical Assistance autism early intensive intervention benefit created during the 2013 legislative session, were modified. One new provision expands the federal authority that the Commissioner of Human Services may use to gain approval for the autism benefit, specifically citing, but not limited to, Early and Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment, known as EPSDT. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that the benefit will be available for families to access as soon as possible.

The new legislation also eliminated the requirement that two separate professionals must diagnose a child with autism in order to access the new benefit. The new language states that a diagnosis must be completed by either a licensed physician or a mental health practitioner.

Additionally, a new section requires that the DHS commissioner provide statewide training on the autism benefit for culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Training for autism service providers on culturally appropriate practices must be online, accessible, and available in multiple languages. The training for families, lead agencies, advocates, and other interested parties must provide information on the benefit and how to access it.

AuSM believes that all of these changes should provide earlier access to services for children with autism once the benefit is available.

A one-time appropriation of $769,000 for an autism interagency resource website was approved. The site will include autism-related resources for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder, their family members, and other interested parties. The commissioners of education, employment and economic development, and health are requested to provide technical assistance to the commissioner in the development of the website in order to consolidate autism-related resources that are under the jurisdiction of affected agencies, and any other related resources of which the agencies are aware, in an effort to provide a comprehensive intra-agency site for interested users. This appropriation expires on June 30, 2017.

An allocation of $2.5 million for autism family respite was provided. The legislation provides for the development of in-home and out-of-home respite services to benefit children and adults with autism and their families. The DHS commissioner is allowed to authorize exceptions to the current licensing moratorium, up to eight beds, if needed to increase capacity.

For more information about how this legislation may affect you or your family, please visit the Autism Society of Minnesota website at www.ausm.org, call 651-647-1083 or e-mail info@ausm.org

The legislative summary was prepared by Jean Bender, Advocacy Committee Chair of the Autism Society of Minnesota.