STATE SETTLES IN AUTISM LAWSUIT Medicaid Will Cover Proven Early Intervention Therapy
Bannach, Chelsea, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)
After three children, Jennifer Collins thought she had it down.
But it became clear early on that her youngest son was struggling. Derek began talking late. He struggled with focus, cried more than usual and shunned affection. At age 2 came a diagnosis of autism.
"We were tearful, emotional all the time," Collins said. "It's heartbreaking to see your child locked in their own head and so unhappy and there's nothing you can do about it."
The Northwest Autism Project told her about the Cheney-based Domino Project, a preschool for autistic children that uses applied behavior analysis, an intensive therapy that focuses on early intervention through positive reinforcement.
After leaving the Domino Project and transitioning into Spokane Public Schools, Derek, now 6, skipped kindergarten and went straight into first grade.
"It changed our son's life," Collins said. "It was the best thing we ever could have done. He can communicate. He can talk to us. He has friends. They taught him how to learn."
Now autistic children enrolled in the government-subsidized Medicaid program in Washington will have access to ABA therapy.
The change has been hailed as a turning point for struggling Washington families with autistic children.
The Washington State Health Care Authority has agreed to cover the cost of the therapy for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, after it settled a lawsuit brought by the Washington Autism Alliance & Advocacy, the HCA announced last week.
"It requires a lot of time and effort, but ultimately the research shows this is the most effective therapy for treating the impacts of autism," said attorney Scott Crain, with the Northwest Justice Project, which represented the plaintiffs. "There's decades of research supporting its use to essentially modify problem behaviors."
The lawsuit was filed in April, and the two parties entered into mediation.
U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones approved the settlement, and beginning Jan. 1, the therapy will become part of the regular benefits offered by Apple Health for Kids, which includes people younger than 21 and enrolled in Medicaid.
"Recent evidence shows that this therapy has been effective and deserves to be covered by our benefit structure," HCA Director MaryAnne Lindeblad said of the settlement in a prepared statement. …