More military children with autism will soon have access to behavior therapy under a new government program, but not everyone is entirely pleased by the change.
Tucked inside a nearly 700-page defense bill signed by President Barack Obama last week is a provision requiring the U.S. Department of Defense to launch a one-year pilot program providing coverage of applied behavior analysis, or ABA, therapy for those with autism through its TRICARE insurance offering.
Currently, advocates say that the military insurer only provides the therapy for dependents of those serving on active duty. The pilot program, however, will expand coverage to all TRICARE beneficiaries with autism for one year.
The bill signed by Obama calls for the new program to be rolled out within 90 days.
Disability advocates say the coverage expansion is a step in the right direction, but said they are dismayed that the new benefits will be short-term. Congress initially voted to make the change permanent, but converted the autism treatment expansion to a pilot program at the last minute.
“Military families who sacrifice so much deserve access to the benefits they have earned,” said Peter Bell, executive vice president at Autism Speaks, which lobbied for the expanded TRICARE coverage citing the experiences of some members of the armed forces who have re-enlisted merely to secure continued autism treatment benefits for their children.
Bell’s group said they will continue to press for permanent ABA coverage for all children covered by TRICARE.
Meanwhile, advocates at The Arc said that while the effort is a “step forward” they were concerned that the new program limits ABA coverage to those with autism and does not include individuals with all types of developmental disabilities.
“There is considerable research proving applied behavioral analysis to be an effective intervention for a number of developmental disabilities, including ASD,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “The inclusion of other developmental disabilities would also have greatly benefited military families who have children with ASD since many of these children only receive their diagnosis after many years.”