By Randall Bachman
The 2016 legislative session began with high hopes that progress could be made to assure that children with a diagnosis of autism would access early intervention and. Another goal was expanded insurance coverage for treatment. As the session ended, the deadlocked legislature left this work unfinished. If a special session is called, we are asking Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders to add these bills as an autism package.
Senate File 2893 includes an “autism spectrum disorder treatment essential health benefit definition addition.” It would add autism treatment to the list of essential health benefit set under the Affordable Care Act. As such, the bill clarifies that autism treatments are habilitative services that improve the functioning of the child and family and are included in essential health benefits in Minnesota. This clarification ensures that more Minnesota children and families can get the coverage that they pay for and that their children can get access to the critical medically necessary treatment that they need and deserve. The bill passed the Senate with the governor’s support and the assistance of staff at the Department of Commerce. In other states that have enacted similar provisions, the impact on premiums has been very minimal, but it made a huge difference for parents with children with autism who needed access to treatment. Parents, many distinguished by their red shirts at the capitol, worked hard to advocate for the bill by showing up day after day and into the night at committee hearings, and by contacting individual legislators.
Senate File 2751 and its autism early intensive intervention benefit provisions modifications was offered to simplify the governor’s Medical Assistance benefit for autism early intervention. This bill would streamline a large number of regulations that are currently preventing families from accessing timely treatment. To date, no provider has been able to clear enough of the hurdles in the existing benefit to offer intensive treatment under the benefit. A group of providers and advocates led by the Autism Treatment Association of Minnesota has been meeting with representatives from the Department of Human Services to refine the existing benefit. A key provision would also give the commissioner latitude to make regulatory exceptions to alleviate the workforce shortage in this area. The good news, is through a lot of hard work and negotiations we’ve achieved a consensus on the bill.
In any event, we are not going away. The incidence of autism is growing rapidly so that now one in 68 children nationally is being diagnosed with the disorder. Without early intervention, which has proven to help these children improve their functioning, some to the degree that they can be mainstreamed with their peers, children and families will languish. Schools and social services systems will be overwhelmed and we’ll all end up paying a much higher price in the long run.
Finally, the state recognizes that it has a legal obligation to provide timely access to treatment to any child who qualifies for federal funding under the Early and Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment law. But beyond the legal obligation, more importantly, we all have a moral obligation to see that children with autism and their families get the treatment and support they need. We are not giving up. We will persevere.
-Randall W. Bachman is the chairperson of the Autism Recovery Foundation, managing director of the Autism Treatment Association of Minnesota, and chair of the Board of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities