Treatment offered for Utah children with autism

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — When Utah debuts a new Medicaid-funded program for children with autism, parents will have to compete for the limited number of slots for at-home services.

The Utah Department of Health says it will open enrollment for 200 children Monday. Officials acknowledge Utah has thousands of children with autism, and they are preparing to hold a lottery to select a chosen few randomly.

“We’ll assign a certain number of openings to different geographic areas based on population,” Health Department spokesman Tom Hudachko told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We want to make sure rural regions get their fair share.”

Another 50 children will be provided with at-home services through the Public Employees’ Benefit and Insurance Program, the newspaper reported. That’s an insurance plan for state workers.

Legislators have created a third option for parents – a state fund to accept private donations – that could widen the coverage to 350 children.

“This is so exciting,” said Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, a sponsor of the efforts to help parents. “The federal government recognized that we are doing something innovative.”

Most health insurance plans in Utah don’t cover comprehensive care for autism, leaving parents with few options. Menlove unsuccessfully sought earlier this year to make autism treatment mandatory for insurers. Instead, she cobbled together some help from a mix of Medicaid and private and insurance funds. Menlove said big Utah insurers are donating to the cause.

“During the legislative session there was some debate about what treatment will really cost,” she said. “So with Medicaid we can test it and produce hard data to move the discussion forward, instead of relying on actuarial studies based on projections.”

Autism usually shows up in early childhood and stunts a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. The Mayo Clinic says there is no cure for autism, but early treatment can mean a big difference in a child’s life.

Applicants for the Medicaid-funded program don’t have to be on Medicaid to receive treatment. Children 2 to 6 years old must meet certain requirements, such as having a clinical diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. They must be U.S. citizens and a Utah resident born between April 1, 2007, and Oct. 31, 2010.

Qualifying children cannot have any independent assets such as a bank account or trust fund in excess of $2,000.

Applications are due by Oct. 31. Families will not be required to make co-payments or pay any co-insurance charges.

A recent study indicated that one in 47 children in Utah could have autism, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. That would be nearly double the national average.


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