There are only two children enrolled and a handful of medical providers yet the state health agency is projecting it will cost $30 million to provide a new service for autistic children between now and June 30 — the end of the state budget year.
The Jindal administration alerted legislators earlier this month of the potential need for the additional funding in Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the poor, because of the expanded services.
The $30 million cost “is the best projection we could do at the time,” said state Department of Health and Hospitals Undersecretary Jerry Phillips. He said it will be updated prior to DHH asking formally for extra funding.
Nell Hahn, a lawyer for the Advocacy Center, said she hoped the state could get sufficient care providers and children enrolled “so they can start spending some substantial resources on it. But at the rate they are going, it’s certainly not going to cost $30 million.”
The new service is called Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy and stems from a court order issued in the Chisholm case originally filed in 1997.
The lawsuit, filed by The Advocacy Center, sought help for Medicaid-eligible children on a waiting list for specialized services for the mentally impaired and developmentally disabled. The new autism therapy service is the latest outgrowth of that lawsuit.
The therapy has proven successful in improving the lives of children and youth with autism. Autism is described by medical websites as a nervous system development disorder distinguished by repetitive behavior and problems with communicating and interacting with other people. The therapy has led to children with autism experiencing significant improvements in learning, reasoning, communication and adaptability, according to Autism Speaks, a national science and advocacy organization dedicated to autism-related research.
The $30 million projection is based on the two autistic youth currently receiving the therapy at an estimated cost of $70,000 a year, Phillips said.
“This is very expensive. It is very intense. It is supposed to get really good results,” Phillips said.
Phillips said there are an estimated nearly 5,500 individuals in the lawsuit class with at least 970 having a diagnosis that could potentially qualify them for the service.
So far, seven therapy providers have enrolled with Medicaid who have the required training, he said. Providers must get licenses to offer the service through the Louisaina Behavioral Analysis Board.
Phillips said the agency is working aggressively to both get individuals qualified for the program as well as providers getting the required credentials.
DHH is “really getting pushed to expedite enrolment. We are trying to speed things up,” Phillips said.
“It is our duty to comply with the directives of the court the best we can,” said Phillips.
Phillips said the agency won’t ask the Legislature to appropriate the funds until sometime during the legislative session which opens March 10 when it hopes to have a better handle on funding requirements. “We will have some actual data and some actual experience by then,” he said.
Phillips said 61 percent of the funding will come from the federal Medicaid program with the remainder a state match.
Hahn said the required spending DHH is projecting is “very doubtful.”
“There aren’t enough providers in the state and every one of those children are not going to be receiving or seek out these services,” Hahn said.
“This is a pretty demanding type of service on the child and the parent,” she added.