Autism Speaks hailed today’s announcement by the federal government, the nation’s largest employer, that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the most widely used behavioral intervention used to treat autism, is a “medical” therapy that qualifies for health insurance coverage, rather than an “educational” service.
The decision by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) involves health insurance coverage provided to the nation’s eight million federal employees, retirees, and dependents, under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program. It could have even more far-reaching implications on the health insurance benefits provided all Americans living with autism, as it will be much harder for insurance companies to continue denying coverage for ABA treatment.
“The OPM decision directly contradicts a long-standing insurance industry claim that ABA therapy is not ‘medical,’ but rather ‘educational’ - provided by the schools at taxpayer expense,” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president for programs and services. “Now, tens of thousands of families will have better access to more affordable, critical ABA treatment.”
The decision was rendered in the form of guidance to insurers who participate in the FEHB Program for policies that will be renewed or issued starting in 2013. The OPM decision does not require the insurers to cover ABA, but rather allows them to offer the coverage as it does many other medical treatments. The guidance reads: “The OPM Benefit Review Panel recently evaluated the status of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for children with autism. Previously, ABA was considered to be an educational intervention and not covered under the FEHB Program. The Panel concluded that there is now sufficient evidence to categorize ABA as medical therapy. Accordingly, plans may propose benefit packages which include ABA.”
Autism Speaks has fought to provide families insurance coverage for ABA therapy through state-regulated plans, self-funded group plans that are regulated under federal law, the FEHB Program, and TRICARE for military families. In each instance, opposition to covering ABA treatment has been based in large part on the claim that ABA is educational, rather than medical.