Three insurers expand autism coverage
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 1/17/2018
Jan. 17--Three insurance companies in Mississippi have agreed to provide more extensive coverage of services for people with autism and other developmental disorders.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney announced Tuesday that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, United Healthcare of Mississippi and Magnolia Health are voluntarily removing the age cap and will provide autism therapy services for people older than 8. Autism spectrum disorder affects how a person processes sensory information and their ability to interact and relate to others.
"We are grateful for the commitment BCBSMS, United and Magnolia have made to helping some of our most vulnerable citizens who may not otherwise have access to treatment," Chaney said.
Applied behavioral analysis is a process involving the systematic application of interventions, such as positive reinforcement, to improve socially significant behaviors among individuals diagnosed with autism or other developmental disorders. Studies have demonstrated many children with autism experience significant improvements in learning, reasoning, communication and adaptability when they participate in high-quality applied behavior analysis programs. State law requires coverage of applied behavior analysis therapy for children through age 8, although autism advocates are seeking state legislation to lift the cap for all insurers.
"Quality treatment will now be more accessible to those who need it the most. Parents and caretakers of individuals diagnosed with autism and other developmental disorders will now be covered beyond age 8," said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, whose department oversees the Mississippi Autism Board. "This is an example of our leading healthcare providers voluntarily meeting the changing healthcare needs of our children."
The expansion of coverage is significant for the Tupelo-based Autism Center of North Mississippi and the families they serve, said Brittany Cuevas, director of business development and administration for the center. Because insurance reimbursements have been limited, the center has relied on grants and fundraising to provide services on a sliding scale for many clients. Low reimbursement rates have made it difficult to recruit and retain board certified behavior analysts. The center is hoping to launch a new program this summer for older kids with autism.
"Our waiting list is 174 right now," with roughly half ages 9 and above, Cuevas said. "With lifting the age cap, we hope to be able to reach those kids."
The Insurance Department also unveiled two new resources for individuals diagnosed with autism. An Autism Hotline, (833) 488-6472, and Autism Insurance Resources website -- www.mid.ms.gov/autism -- are now live, and are designed to help consumers with any issues related to claiming health insurance benefits for screening, diagnosis and treatment.
"In my work, I visit with parents and children trying to navigate the complicated insurance system every day," said Mississippi Autism Board Chairman Dr. Jim Moore, who is Director of Autism Solutions at Canopy Children's Solutions in Jackson. "We are grateful for Commissioner Chaney's leadership in aggregating resources to make finding critical information easier for those who need it. Today is a victory for the children of Mississippi with autism and their families."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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