Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Gazette Opinion: Making autism services a sure thing for Montana kids

With neither fanfare nor partisan fighting, the 2015 Legislature authorized the state to add services for children with autism to the Medicaid program. Gov. Steve Bullock proposed that change to allow all Medicaid-eligible children to get what they need. Life-changing lottery No longer will Montana children have to win a lottery to get the services that teach them to talk, to understand language, to interact socially and to develop other skills that are so difficult for children with autism. In 2009, Montana started a limited Medicaid program for such children, providing 55 slots statewide. The lucky kids who get those slots are eligible to receive intensive services for up to three years. Independent researchers found that among children who completed the program: 65 percent were able to go into regular public school classrooms; they no longer needed special education. 80 percent were verbal, up from 42 percent at the start of services. In 2013, the estimated lifetime cost of one individual with autism spectrum disorder was $3.2 million. Each child who was enabled to function well in a regular classroom represents millions of dollars in future savings with good prospects for living independently as adults. That’s the payoff from a Medicaid investment of $45,000 per year in preschool services. With the assistance of a 30-member advisory committee of parents and providers, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services is putting together a children’s autism plan. Novelene Martin, Developmental Disabilities Bureau chief, hopes the plan will be submitted to federal Medicaid administrators by Jan. 1, and that they will OK the program early in 2016.

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