A new court order in a long-running federal lawsuit will provide access to a specialized therapy program that’s proven successful in improving the lives of children and youth with autism.
Some 800 Louisiana young people under age 21 are estimated to be eligible through the state’s Medicaid program.
The state health agency will arrange for the Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy as a result of a court order in the Chisholm case originally filed in 1997.
The lawsuit, filed by The Advocacy Center, sought help for Medicaid-eligible children on a waiting list for specialized services for the mentally impaired and developmentally disabled.
The new autism therapy service is the latest outgrowth of that lawsuit.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals has indicated it will initially reserve 165 slots. The new therapy services are expected to increase spending by $9.5 million.
Autism is described by medical websites as a nervous system development disorder distinguished by repetitive behavior and problems with communicating and interacting with other people.
The therapy has led to children with autism experiencing significant improvements in learning, reasoning, communication and adaptability, according to Autism Speaks, a national science and advocacy organization dedicated to autism-related research.
Advocacy Center lawyer Nell Hahn said the state has been sorely lacking in services for children with autism. “The state simply had nothing to offer,” she said.
Hahn said the state agreed back in 2001 to remedy the situation by having autism specialists around the state. “That never happened,” she said.
Under the new agreement, the children will be eligible for the specialized therapy while they remain on the Children’s Choice waiver list for comprehensive community-based services.
In 2008, the state required private insurance policies to cover autism services, Hahn said. “We have been agitating to get the same thing under Medicaid since then,” she said.
DHH recently published an emergency rule clearing the way for Applied Behavioral Analysis services for Medicaid-eligible individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
“We are actively working on a long-term plan to accommodate the directives of the Court and to best serve those individuals,” said DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins.
The emergency rule amends provisions of the Children’s Choice waiver “to comply with the judge’s order that ABA services be provided to Chisholm class members, and to avoid imminent peril to the public health and welfare of Chisholm class members who are in immediate need of ABA services” until such time as the change is approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We are asking people to call our office, then we are submitting contact information to DHH,” Hahn said..
“We want to keep track of the people that have requested services so we can follow-up.”