Study Finds Law Boosted Services For Kids On The Spectrum
Children with autism are receiving more services at no added cost to their families thanks to a federal law that requires expanded mental health coverage, researchers say.
The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act mandates that many health insurance policies cover mental health services at the same level as physical health.
In a study published this month in the journal Health Affairs, researchers examined the impact of the law on families of kids with autism.
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“We found that kids with autism spectrum disorder are getting more services but their families don’t have to pay more to get them,” said Elizabeth Stuart, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.
Stuart and her colleagues looked at a database tracking health insurance claims for millions of Americans between 2007 and 2012 to assess services usage for those with autism up to age 18.
In the first year that the mental health parity law was in effect, the study found that children with autism received an additional 1.6 visits with a mental health professional, 0.4 visits with a speech therapist and 0.7 additional occupational and physical therapy visits per year.
While the gains were small, the researchers said they are meaningful for families that already pay on average over $1,000 per year out-of-pocket for various treatments and therapies.
“These are kids with serious and expensive health care needs and the parity law is helping,” said Colleen Barry of Johns Hopkins, a senior author of the study.
Children with autism younger than 12 were most likely to benefit from an uptick in services following implementation of the mental health parity law, according to the findings. This could speak to a problem with provider access for adolescents even if they have insurance coverage, the researchers said.