Insurance companies are reluctant to pay for ABA therapy sessions. Laws differ between states and parents of autistic children are often found at the receiving end;
Eddie Miller, of New Jersey, was an energetic two-year old boy who loved to draw and paint. He would love jumping on trampolines. But his parents soon noticed that he grunted instead of talking and was not able to make eye contact. A few days after his third birthday, Eddie was diagnosed with autism.
It was a shattering moment for Deborah Miller, Eddie’s mother. Seeking the best care for his child, Deborah and her husband Kenneth, found applied behaviour analysis (ABA) the most effective. After several one-on-one ABA sessions, Eddie’s grunts converted to words like ‘cookie’ and ‘juice’, which later evolved into sentences like “Can I have some juice?” The therapy was working.
But soon the insurance company began denying the claims.
While laws in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania require all insurers to pay for ABA therapy, Eddie’s was not covered in his school, where he needed it the most. It was almost impossible for the Millers to pay the annual $75,000 as therapy costs. Eddie’s language skills plummeted once the ABA was stopped and his behavior went out of control. The Millers could only watch in helplessness.
Though autism laws in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania were enacted before 2010, families like the Millers are still trapped in large gaps. ABA coverage is usually hard to obtain and payments are often delayed. The laws also don’t apply for autistic adults.
The problems, experts say, will continue because autism incidents are growing alarmingly in the country. It’s prevalence is around 120 percent more than the estimates between 2000-2010., with the numbers revealing that autism affects one out of 68 US children.
Autism prevalence in New Jersey-one in 45 children-is significantly higher than the rest of the country’s average. Ever since the autism laws were passed in the state, there has been a noticeable ebbing, but there are problems as well. Patricia Young, a practicing attorney helping autistic patients get insurance coverage, has collected health scheme related complaints from at least 30 families.
It’s harder to ascertain the prevalence of complaints in Pennsylvania because the law there compels the insurance scheme for poor to cover autism. Subscribers unpaid by private insurers can opt for this scheme which covers the full autism treatment therapies.
Patricia warns that ‘a tsunami’ of older autistic adults is coming. Over 32,000 autistic adults are likely to stay in New Jersey by 2020. She has worked with various social organizations to set up a couple of funding schemes for adult autistics. She, however, admits that these programs aren’t big enough to cover all adults and even lesser compared to future demands.
Many insurers, like in the case of Eddie, avoid covering therapy charges in schools, including ABA. They usually dump the costs on public schools and other agencies.
The insurance companies have their side of the story as well. They say that since ABA is therapy based and usually doesn’t require medication, it can’t be covered under insurance. Many parents of autistic children have moved court to extract their dues from the insurance companies.