Iowa takes a step forward in autism care

Children with autism will now have more accessibility to a valuable treatment.

By Jason Estrada

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Families in Iowa will now have easier access to valuable treatment for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Gov Terry Branstad signed House File 215 into law on March 30, which will give Iowa more accessibility to the applied behavior analysis, a therapy to improve socially significant behaviors. The bill will require insurance companies to cover families who apply for access to the treatment.

Renee Speh, a family member of the Iowa Autism Council, a group that acts as an advisory council to the state, said many parents and local autism organizations have worked for years to get the bill passed by the Iowa Legislature.

“It provides coverage for applied behavior analysis when the family has no other insurance coverage for it,” she said.

For families to qualify for the insurance, they need to meet certain requirements, she said. Their income must be less than 500 percent of the federal poverty level and have children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder who are 14 or younger, Speh said.

Many families have struggled to pay for applied behavior analysis services for their autistic children in the past, she said, and she believes it will help their child learn specific skills.

“Parents and caregivers want their children to have the best tools to thrive,” she said. “This insurance coverage allows one of those tools, an evidence-based treatment, to be available to more children.”

Todd Kopelman, a University of Iowa clinical assistant professor of psychiatry who specializes in pediatric autism, said he is thrilled the legislation passed and thinks it will increase accessibility to the applied behavior analysis service for children and adolescents with autism in Iowa.

“[Applied behavior analysis] focuses on important areas of a child’s development including communication, play skills, social interaction, learning, and reducing challenging behaviors,” he said. “Numerous research studies have demonstrated that … services, especially when they are started early in a child’s life and with adequate intensity, can be helpful in each of these areas.”

A few years ago, he noted, there was funding by the state to provide families with financial assistance in Iowa to pay for applied behavior analysis services, but some families did not qualify for the funding.

Although Kopelman is pleased the Legislature passed the bill, he said there is a shortage of applied behavior analysis specialists in Iowa, which may make it difficult for children to quickly receive the service.

“I am cautiously optimistic that the number of [applied behavior] specialists in Iowa will increase over the next few years, now that their services are reimbursable,” he said.

Josh Cobbs, the chairman of the Iowa Autism Council, said for the past 10 years, his family never had access to the applied behavior service in his health-care plan, because it excluded the benefit.

“For me, this is important not just for our family, but for all the families in Iowa so they can have access to medical therapies for their individuals with loved ones,” he said.

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