A Somali immigrant mother’s relentless campaign to expand care for poor children with autism has achieved a major triumph, as Minnesota becomes one of the first states in the nation to subsidize a broad range of intensive therapies for the developmental disorder.
The federal government has approved Minnesota’s request to pay for expensive one-on-one therapies designed to improve language and social skills in children and young adults with autism. As a result, hundreds of low-income families on Medical Assistance, Minnesota’s health plan for 1 million poor and disabled Minnesotans, will benefit from treatment that previously been available only to wealthier people.
The approval by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) marks a major victory for Idil Abdull, whose 12-year-old son has autism and who fought a relentless, five-year battle to gain coverage of intensive early interventions for young children with the disorder. Abdull made so many trips to the State Capitol in her distinctive red and blue hijabs that she became known as the “Autism Lady” and was on a first-name basis with state commissioners and influential legislators.
“I wore them down,” an ebullient Abdull said in an interview after the CMS announced approval last week. “This wasn’t a case of ‘Minnesota Nice.’ I let my emotions for my son and for the thousands of other poor kids with autism drive what I was doing.”
One of the more controversial therapies that will now be covered by public insurance is applied behavior analysis, which emphasizes simple tasks and repetition as a way to control impulsive behavior common among autistic children. The therapy, which costs up to $100,000 a year, has been offered to some middle-class and wealthy families who petitioned for state coverage, but not to many poor children on Medical Assistance whose families lacked the legal tools to pursue coverage. Minnesota is now just the third state to cover applied behavior analysis in its public insurance program, according to the CMS.Controversial? What does the Minneapolis Star-Tribune have against ABA? Another headline referred to ABaq -- the therapy with the most empirical validation -- as "unproven."