Utah Provides Free ABA Therapy for Autism through Medicaid’s Pilot Program

The Utah Department of Health issued a notice on their website that parents of an autistic child between the ages of two and six could enroll the child in a pilot program by Medicaid. Referred to as the Utah Medicaid Autism Waiver, this pilot program would treat about three hundred children through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy until the program ends in June 2014.  The in-home treatments would be free to all participants. The Utah Department of Health also announced a second open enrollment period sometime this summer, urging listserv sign-ups for more details and the dates of enrollment.

The pilot program has received negative and positive feedback from parents whose autistic children participate. One family, a single father with an autistic son, J.J., experienced a four-month delay before treatment started. The process involved paperwork, finding a provider, and the provider finding tutors who would travel to a rural part of southeastern Utah. The father questioned the effectiveness of the therapy, saying that the tutors assigned to his son had no experience and would frequently miss appointments. Only once was a session done with a certified ABA therapist present. It also concerned him when one of the tutors would take his son to her home 30 miles away without letting him know. After three months, the provider stopped treating J.J. and has since declined to comment on the reason.

On the other hand, one satisfied parent calls the effects of the ABA therapy on her son as “doing miracles.” Robyn Kartchner’s son, Owen, who is almost three years old, did not have the ability to bond well with her as a baby. He would not nurse or want to be held, which made Kartchner think he might have autism. Owen was later diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. With just five months into the pilot program he is saying “momma” when before, he could not speak at all. Owen also no longer needs to use the communication app on his iPod. His certified ABA therapist through Affinity Autism Services keeps informed about his treatment through Skype, gives feedback to his tutor and parents, and makes adjustments to the therapy as needed.

The overseer for Medicaid services in Utah, Tonya Hales, acknowledged the initial challenge of some providers not having the staff available for the sudden spike in need due to the pilot program, as well as the added hindrance of families in a rural location. Overall, however, Hales reports that many families in both rural and urban areas have been satisfied with the ABA therapy their autistic children have received through Medicaid’s pilot program.