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ABA therapy benefits cut off for some autistic children in California

April 22, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Rachel Harris of Orange County knows how Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA therapy, has helped her 4-year-old autistic son.

Studies show ABA therapy improves communication and relationships while reducing aggression and self-injury.

"We saw improvements in that when we were doing the therapy. It was so exciting," she said.

But as the state slowly phases out the Healthy Families health care program to cut costs and moves nearly 900,000 kids into Medi-Cal, something has gone wrong.

Hundreds of low-income families using autism services were told their ABA therapy would continue, but instead, they were completely cut off April 1.

"We certainly have seen regression since that," said Harris.

Families have feared for months their ABA benefits would be cut off during the transition. Nobody listened, and nobody can explain why.

The Department of Health Care Services didn't provide anyone for an on-camera interview, saying its people were "too busy" preparing for a legislative hearing the topic.

In a late statement, though, the agency said: "...We are working to ensure Medi-Cal members continue to have appropriate access to behavioral health services."

Senate President Darrell Steinberg, who led the charge that forced private insurers to cover ABA, was also asked what he's doing about it.

"We're fighting to change this. Every child with autism should have the benefit of this early intervention," he said.

The problem is, the improvements made during ABA therapy fade with time.

"Since we've lost the therapy, we've had a couple of incidences where he's been quite aggressive, he's climbed on top of our refrigerator," said Harris.

"We need to ask that they stop and not transfer anymore kids and not harm anymore kids," said Kristin Jacobson with Autism Deserves Equal Coverage.

The next wave of families move into Medi-Cal is May 1.


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