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Monday, November 20, 2017

Autism Society v. GOP Tax Bills

The Autism Society opposes the GOP tax bills:
On November 16, the House of Representatives passed its version of a tax bill. Now the Senate is finalizing its own version. Both bills are extremely damaging because they:
Pave the way for cutting Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, and other critical programs for people with disabilities in order to pay for the tax cuts later.
Increase the deficit significantly to provide tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

But the Senate bill is even worse. It also repeals the “individual mandate” for people to have health care coverage. If this happens, nearly 14 million people will lose health coverage and it will increase premiums for people buying insurance on the health insurance exchange by 10% per year. The individual mandate is a central part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which greatly benefits people with disabilities by eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions, banning annual and lifetime limits, prohibiting discrimination based on health status, and much more.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on its Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the week after Thanksgiving.
We must stop this very harmful and unpopular legislation NOW. TAKE ACTION
  • Call your Senators. Call the Capitol Switchboard number 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senators.
  • Attend a Town Hall Meeting.
  • Participate in a Tax Plan Rally Event.
  • I am a member of Autism Society of America.
  • Please vote NO on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
  • We cannot afford these tax cuts that go mainly to the wealthiest Americans and large corporations.
  • Tax reform should not be rushed. People should have time to understand the bill and how they will be affected.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hollywood, Autism, and Self-Funded Insurance

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
Sixty-one percent of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance are in a self-funded plan, in which the employer takes direct financial responsibility for enrollees’ medical claims. Employers that self-fund typically contract with an insurance company to run the plan. Workers then get cards that bear the name of the insurance company and often look just like those from a traditional plan, so many do not even know that they are in a self-funded plan. Most of the time, the distinction makes little difference -- unless the employees are seeking coverage for a family member with autism. The catch is that the state mandates do not apply to self-funded plans. A federal law (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA) exempts self-funded plans from most state insurance laws, including mandated benefits. When South Carolina passed its mandate, the Unumb family was in a self-funded plan, so Ryan could not benefit from Ryan’s Law. As lawyers, the Unumbs knew about this exception all along, but for many autism families in states with insurance mandates, it comes as an unpleasant surprise.
At Variety, Jessica Ritz writes that her family relies on a Writers Guild of America (WGA) health plan.
But for many families in the entertainment industry affected by autism, there’s a stinging irony. Our WGA health care plan doesn’t cover most of our son’s therapies. Those who create the characters and stories that help spread autism awareness are themselves often denied essential funds to help treat this very condition, leaving the burden of extensive intervention costs largely on our shoulders.

California Senate Bill 946, California’s Autism Insurance Mandate initially passed in the state legislature in 2011 and implemented in 2012, helped nudge the needle forward to add autism services to behavioral health insurance coverage in California, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and other autism therapies. And yet the loopholes are many. The Writers’ Guild-Industry Health Fund is a “self-funded” entity, meaning it’s administered by a third party and therefore has discretion over what’s included in members’ Anthem Blue Cross plan.

We received a letter explaining the Fund “recognizes” SB 946, but the Health Fund Plan excludes ABA and other “Educational Therapy” treatments. File this discretionary decision under perfectly legal — and a deeply unfair policy that needs to be challenged. (Yet another item to add to the parents of special needs kids’ To Do lists, along with consulting with therapists, attorneys, and advocates.) When your own insurance plan falls short, the buck gets passed to overburdened public agencies, such as California Regional Center.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Kevin and Avonte's Law Clears Senate Judiciary Committee

The Politics of Autism discusses the problem of wandering, which has been the topic of legislation before Congress.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported S. 2070: Kevin and Avonte's Law of 2017.  Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), chair of the committee and sponsor of the bill, said:
Today, we have Kevin and Avonte’s Law of 2017, S. 2070, on the agenda. I want to thank Senators Klobuchar, Tillis, Schumer, Burr, Durbin, and Coons for their cosponsorship of this measure, which last July passed the full Senate by voice vote.

The House passed a related companion bill in December, but we ran out of time before the 114th Congress adjourned to resolve differences between the two chambers’ versions. This year, however, Congressman Smith and I introduced the same bill text in both chambers on the same day.
Our bill would update and extend a Justice Department program known as the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program. That program reportedly had a high success rate in locating missing individuals who enrolled in it.

We’ve retitled the program and changed it to support not just people with dementia but also children with developmental disabilities. It allows Justice Department grants to be used for education programs to help prevent wandering by these individuals and for technology to reunite caregivers with missing family members.

For example, because police often are the first people to respond when a child goes missing, the bill will make resources available to equip first responders with the training necessary to better prevent and respond to these cases. These activities will help save lives and conserve police resources.

The measure’s entitled “Kevin and Avonte’s Law" in honor of two young, autistic boys who wandered away from their caretakers and drowned. One of the two, Kevin Curtis Wills, jumped into Raccoon River near his hometown in Jefferson, Iowa, at the age of nine. Research suggests that up to half of autistic children wander, and those who do are strongly attracted to bodies of water, often with similarly tragic results.

We’ve received endorsement letters from the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Autism Speaks, the Autism Safety Coalition, the Arc, and the National Down Syndrome Society, among many others. I seek unanimous consent to include those in the Record.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Autism Treatment Market

The Politics of Autism includes an extensive discussion of insurance and the regulation of autism service providers.

Autism treatment is a business.  There are many good providers, with dedicated therapists who can help autistic people achieve remarkable outcomes. But there are a lot of substandard providers and outright scamsters, too.  It is extremely difficult for parents to find reliable, standardized information about providers and the quality of the services they offer.

A release from Marketdata:
Marketdata LLC, a leading independent market research publisher since 1979, has released a new study, a 50-page report entitled: The U.S. Autism Treatment Market . The study traces the market from 2009-2022 Forecast, examining programs and medications used to treat children with autism. This is a little-researched, but growth niche market.
According to Research Director, John LaRosa: “Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has become widely accepted among health care professionals and is used in many schools and autism treatment clinics. Occupational and speech therapy are also used.”
Major Findings:
Market Value… The U.S. autism treatment market was estimated to be valued at $1.85 billion as of 2016, growing to $1.87 billion in the current year. Marketdata forecasts 3.9% average yearly growth, to $2.23 billion by 2022. This could be conservative, as insurance coverage is improving.
ABA (applied behavioral analysis) programs are estimated to generate $1.07 billion in revenues this year, and prescription drugs for autism symptoms account for $800 million.
Patient Demographics…. Based on new government data that finds that 1 in 45 children in the United States, aged 3-17, have autism, Marketdata analysts estimate that there are 1.4 million children with autism. Another 700,000 adults have autism, having “aged out” of childrens’ programs. 81% of autistic children are male.
The total annual costs for children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) in the United States were estimated to be between $11.5 billion and $60.9 billion -- a significant economic burden.
There are basically three types of ABA program providers: brick & mortar centers, community providers, and In-home therapists.
The “average” ABA center grosses about $821,000. Many are non-profit organizations. Many now have waiting lists and there is a shortage of qualified supervisors.
Insurance coverage is a problem, but the share of children with access to insurance coverage is expected to increase from the 36% level today. In addition, the number of self-funded private employers covering autism treatment continues to grow.
Venture capital firms are starting to take notice of investment opportunities in this market.
Data suggest that approximately 58 percent of patients with a diagnosis of childhood autism receive some type of pharmaceutical treatment. However, this segment of the market has been shrinking in value as concerns continue over side effects of drugs such as Risperdal. These drugs also face competition from cheaper generics, as patents have expired.
Nine large multi-site ABA program providers operate an estimated 296 brick and mortar centers and employ thousands of therapists. Together, they account for about $390 million in revenues—a 38% market share of ABA programs.

"Many autism treatment organizations, and some of the largest competitors, are located in California. This is due to the fact that funding for treatment programs has been in place there since the 1990s, prior to the insurance mandates that were later put into place.”, according to John LaRosa.
As for the last point, note that Lovaas worked at UCLA and many of his students work in the region.

Many self-advocate object to "economic cost" analysis, arguing that it treats autistic people as burdens rather than contributors to society.

Finally, note the emphasis on children.  Autistic youths grow into autistic adults, and they continue to need services.  We know a good deal less about the fate of autistic adults.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Nominee to Head Special Education Office

In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

From the White House:
From Johnny Collett of Kentucky, to be the Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Mr. Collett is the Director of Special Education Outcomes at the Council of Chief State School Officers. In this role, he supports states in their work to raise expectations and improve outcomes for children and youth with disabilities. He previously served as Director of the Division of Learning Services and State Director of Special Education at the Kentucky Department of Education. In this role, he provided oversight to a division that included special education, as well as other program areas such as English Learners, gifted and talented, response to intervention, the Kentucky School for the Blind, and the Kentucky School for the Deaf. He also served on the board of directors of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, serving a partial term as secretary-treasurer of the board. Mr. Collett also served in various other roles, including exceptional children consultant, assistant division director, and acting division director. Prior to working at the Kentucky Department of Education, he was a high school special education teacher. Mr. Collett is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, and Georgetown College (KY).
From an April interview with Collett: 
The same reason that academic success for any student is important to me. While it is true that much progress has been made over the last 40 years since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it is also true that there is still much work to do to ensure that all children, including students with disabilities, are prepared for success. For example, states have learned that a focus on compliance under IDEA, while necessary, is not sufficient by itself to improve achievement and outcomes for SWD. States are not content to maintain environments where the achievement of compliance alone is viewed as success. As a result, the focus has expanded beyond compliance to include intentional focus around results and to improving achievement and outcomes for SWD, as well as associated staff development and school improvement toward that end.
 At his confirmation hearing, senators should ask him about reports that DeVos wants to change rules concerning minority enrollment in special education.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Senate Tax Bill Would Repeal the ACA Individual Mandate

From the Autistic Self Advocacy Network:
ASAN remains strongly opposed to the elimination of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and condemns the inclusion of repeal within the latest versions of the tax bills.
The individual mandate helps make insurance more affordable, especially for people with disabilities. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office has shown that 13 million people could lose access to affordable coverage if the mandate is repealed, with premiums rising an average of 10%. The American people have strongly rejected such proposals three times in this year alone. Taken in conjunction with the Budget resolution which cut $5 trillion dollars over the next decade from Medicaid, Social Security, and other essential services that allow people with disabilities to live good lives in our communities, the tax bill and the repeal of the individual mandate amount to a full-scale attack on people with disabilities.
It is reprehensible and immoral to take health care away from 13 million people in order to let corporations and the wealthiest Americans avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The lives and liberty of people with disabilities are worth more than this. ASAN urges Congress to heed the clear voice of the disability community–and many others–and abandon this umpteenth attempt to force a destructive and partisan agenda.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Trump Names Drug Company Guy to Head HHS

 In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.

Trump promoted that idea, but stiffed antivax activists in his appointments to FDA and CDC.

Now he is nominating a drug company guy to head HHS.

From the White House:
Alex Michael Azar II of Indiana, to be the Secretary of Health & Human Services. Mr. Azar is currently the chairman of Seraphim Strategies, LLC. Mr. Azar has led a notable career by serving in several senior roles in both the public and private sectors. As President of Lilly USA, LLC, the largest affiliate of global biopharmaceutical leader Eli Lilly and Company, he directly led the U.S. Biomedicines business unit, the affiliate’s largest division, encompassing the areas of neuroscience, cardiovascular health, men’s health, musculoskeletal, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and pain, as well as the sales, marketing, and payer operations of the company’s U.S. commercial business. Prior to his time at Lilly USA, Mr. Azar was the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services immediately after serving as its General Counsel, where the Senate confirmed him for both Presidential appointments by voice vote. He received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and his juris doctorate from Yale University.
Eli Lilly is not only a major manufacturer of vaccines, it is the company that developed thimerosal.

Antivax Rep. Dan Burton represented the Indiana district where Lilly is located. He attacked the company, and its executives (though not Azar personally) contributed to his primary opponents in 2010.

The antivax people are probably unhappy.

Trump betrays everybody.

In this case, good!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Hyping Research

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss various ideas about what causes the condition.  I also write:  "If the science were not confusing enough, its coverage in the mass media has added another layer of murk.  News reports hype tentative findings and weak correlations as “breakthroughs” in the quest for autism answers. "  

 A release from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
A breakthrough in finding the mechanism and a possible therapeutic fix for autism and intellectual disability has been made by a University of Nebraska Medical Center researcher and his team at the Munroe-Meyer Institute (MMI).

Woo-Yang Kim, Ph.D., associate professor, developmental neuroscience, led a team of researchers from UNMC and Creighton University into a deeper exploration of a genetic mutation that reduces the function of certain neurons in the brain.
Dr. Kim's findings were published in this week's online issue of Nature Neuroscience.
"This is an exciting development because we have identified the pathological mechanism for a certain type of autism and intellectual disability," Dr. Kim said.
Recent studies have shown that the disorder occurs when a first-time mutation causes only one copy of the human AT-rich interactive domain 1B (ARID1B) gene to remain functional, but it was unknown how it led to abnormal cognitive and social behaviors.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) impairs the ability of individuals to communicate and interact with others. About 75 percent of individuals with ASD also have intellectual disability, which is characterized by significant limitations in cognitive functions and adaptive behaviors.
There are no drugs or genetic treatments to prevent ASD or intellectual disability; the only treatment options focus on behavioral management and educational and physical therapies.
The team created and analyzed a genetically modified mouse and found that a mutated Arid1b gene impairs GABA neurons, the 'downer' neurotransmitter, leading to an imbalance of communication in the brain.
"We showed that cognitive and social deficits induced by an Arid1b mutation in mice are reversed by pharmacological treatment with a GABA receptor modulating drug. And, now we have a designer mouse that can be used for future studies."
The study may well be very good neuroscience, but any connection between a mouse study and intervetnions that will help autistic people will encompass many years and countless other studies. Autism affects behaviors (e.g., speech) that mice cannot perform in the first place.  It is pure hype to use a headline such as "Breakthrough research suggests potential treatment for autism, intellectual disability."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

House Tax Bill Would Hurt People with Autism and Other Disabilities

At The Daily Beast, Elizabeth Picciuto explains why the House tax bill would hurt people with disabilities.
The provision that will have the most catastrophic effect on disabled people is the removal of the deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Currently, if your out-of-pocket medical expenses exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income, you can deduct that from your tax bill. In the Jobs and Tax Cuts Bill, that provision is excised completely.
Depending on individual circumstances, people who pay out-of-pocket for personal care assistants and durable medical equipment would be among those experiencing the most calamitous repercussions. Someone who needs a new power wheelchair to get to work and recreational events may have to fork over tens of thousands of dollars. A caregiver who can only maintain a full-time career if she hires a personal care assistant to provide care for an aging parent may be forced to quit her job. A disabled person who can live independently in the community so long as he has a personal care assistant may have to live in a nursing home instead.
“[Disabled people are] a group at a disadvantage that’s been targeted to raise revenue,” says Thomas Cooke, a professor specializing in tax law at Georgetown University. “The broad sweep of this bill is to cut corporate taxes significantly. Somebody’s got to pay for that reduction. And I’m afraid it’s being paid on the backs of individual taxpayers, including taxpayers with disabilities and medical expenses.”
Another provision that specifically affects disabled people is the elimination of a tax credit granted to businesses to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Businesses that, for example, wish to build a ramp, hire a sign language interpreter, or make their website more accessible can no longer claim this exemption. “It’s disastrous,” Cooke said.
Concurrently, there is a bill pending in the House, H.R. 620, designed to make it harder for disabled people to sue businesses that do not comply with the ADA. Suing is the primary current enforcement mechanism for failures to comply with the ADA.
In tandem, the tax bill and H.R. 620 would make it more expensive to comply with ADA and less risky to violate it.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Insurance Mandates Mean Autistic Kids Get More Services

The Politics of Autism includes an extensive discussion of insurance and the regulation of autism service providers.

Brendan Saloner and Colleen L Barry have an article at Autism titled "Changes in Spending and Service Use after a State Autism Insurance Mandate." The abstract:
Almost all states have insurance coverage mandates for childhood autism spectrum disorder treatment, yet little is known about how mandates affect spending and service use. We evaluated a 2011 Kansas law mandating comprehensive coverage of autism spectrum disorder treatments in the State Employee Health Plan. Data were extracted from the Kansas All-Payer Claims Database from 2009 to 2013 for enrollees of State Employee Health Plan and private health plans. The sample included children aged 0–18 years with >2 claims with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis insured through State Employee Health Plan or a comparison group enrolled through private health plans. We estimated differences-in-differences regression models to compare trends among State Employee Health Plan to privately insured children. Average annual total spending on autism spectrum disorder services increased by US$912 (95% confidence interval: US$331–US$1492) and average annual out-of-pocket spending on autism spectrum disorder services increased by US$138 (95% confidence interval: US$53–US$223) among diagnosed children in the State Employee Health Plan relative to the comparison group following the mandate, representing 92% and 75% increases over baseline total and out-of-pocket autism spectrum disorder spending, respectively. Average annual quantity of outpatient autism spectrum disorder services increased by 15.0 services (95% confidence interval: 8.4–21.6) among children in the State Employee Health Plan, more than doubling the baseline average. Implementation of a comprehensive autism spectrum disorder mandate in the Kansas State Employee Health Plan was associated with substantial increases in service use and spending for autism spectrum disorder treatment among autism spectrum disorder–diagnosed children.
From the study:
It is unclear what factors drive increased utilization. One likely possibility is that increasing the spending cap led families with children who were previously constrained
to use more services. Another possibility is that some of the increase in spending and service use with an ASD diagnosis code may be related to reclassification of services
that were already being provided to children prior to the mandate. For example, a child previously receiving counseling with an intellectual disability diagnosis may be classified with an ASD diagnosis after the mandate in order to take advantage of better coverage. We found large, but not statistically significant, reductions in non-ASD spending and prescription drug spending after the mandate. Finally, better access to services for ASD-diagnosed youth may reduce spending in other areas due to improved medical management (e.g. reduced visits to the emergency department). Identifying the contribution of these factors is important for further research.
The Kansas SEHP experience demonstrates that coverage mandates can be effective in increasing receipt of services among youth with diagnosed ASD. With a growing number
of states implementing these mandates, experiences may differ depending upon factors such as the scope and enforcement of the mandate, the response of insurance companies to new requirements, and the level of awareness among physicians, patients, and parents of children with ASD. As was found in Kansas, new mandates may create opportunities for children to take advantage of a broader array of services. Whether these policies lead to better quality of care and improved outcomes among these children will be an important benchmark for future evaluation.

Friday, November 10, 2017

After the Texas Special-Ed Scandal

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss special education.  Some states do a reasonably good job, but Texas has not  been one of them.

Alejandra Matos reports at The Houston Chronicle:
Texas enrolled its largest number of students in special education programs last school year, the same year the state's education department officially got rid of an arbitrary cap it put in place more than a decade ago.

In the 2016-17 school year, 477,281 students received special education services, an increase of about 14,000 students compared to the previous school year. That's about 8.9 percent of Texas students receiving special education resources, according to the latest data from the state's Public Education Information Management System.

The increase in enrollment, while only a fraction of a percent, is noteworthy given a policy the Texas Education Agency quietly enacted in 2004 that directed school districts to limit special education services to no more than 8.5 percent of students.
A 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation found that tens of thousands of students with disabilities were denied access to services because of the de-facto cap. TEA eliminated the policy in November, two months after the Chronicle revealed the existence of what officials described as the 8.5 percent "benchmark."

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Kevin and Avonte's Law, 2017

The Politics of Autism discusses the problem of wandering, which has been the topic  of legislation before Congress.

The House passed an amended version of Kevin and Avonte's Law, but the Senate did not act on this version before adjourning last year.  

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have introduced legislation to help families locate missing loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, autism and related conditions. Kevin and Avonte’s Law (S. 2070), named in honor of two boys with autism who perished after wandering from safety, would also support training for caregivers to prevent and respond to instances of wandering.
The bill, which passed the Senate by voice vote in the 114th Congress, is named in honor of two young boys diagnosed with autism who wandered away from supervised settings and drowned. One of the two, nine year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, died in 2008 after jumping into the Raccoon River near his home town of Jefferson, Iowa. The other, high school student Avonte Oquendo of Queens, New York, drowned in NYC’s East River in 2014. Six year-old Hamza Elmi of St. Cloud, Minnesota, who was also diagnosed with autism, drowned in the Mississippi River near his home in 2015.
The bill would reauthorize the expired Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, and broaden it to support people with autism and other developmental disabilities. Specifically, the bill would allow Justice Department grants to be used for state and local education and training programs to help prevent wandering and reunite caregivers with missing family members who have a condition linked to wandering.

Under the bill, the grants can be used for the development of training and emergency protocols for school personnel, to supply first responders with additional information and resources, and for locative tracking technology programs to assist the families and caregivers of individuals who may wander from safety because of their condition. Grant funding may also be used to establish or enhance notification and communications systems for the recovery of missing children with autism.
Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are also cosponsoring this legislation. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will also cosponsor the bill.
The bill is supported by, among others, the Autism Society of Iowa, Autism Speaks, the National Autism Association, SafeMinds, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, ANCOR (American Network of Community Options), National Autism Society of America, the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, the National Down Syndrome Society, and the Color of Autism Foundation.

More information on Kevin and Avonte’s Law is available HERE. Bill text can be found HERE.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Loophole in CA Vaccine Mandate

In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.

California has not punished any doctors for writing needless exemptions from the vaccination requirement, writes Soumya Karlamangla at The Los Angeles Times
Public health advocates are still concerned that doctors are writing improper exemptions to get kids out of vaccines. The number of children with medical exemptions tripled last year, and dozens of complaints against physicians have been filed with the Medical Board of California.

But the way California law addresses medical exemptions has created a challenge for officials, experts say. It leaves the decision of whether a child should be allowed to skip vaccines fully up to the doctor.

Some websites aimed at parents worried about vaccines suggest that physicians could write exemptions for children if they have a family history of asthma, diabetes, eczema or ADHD.

“Is it an abuse? Of course it’s an abuse,” said UC Hastings law professor Dorit Reiss. “The law left discretion to the doctors and of course that means doctors can abuse that discretion.”
In West Virginia, one of the other two states that banned personal belief exemptions, state officials have to sign off on every medical exemption form. The proportion of children in West Virginia with medical exemptions is four times smaller than in California.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Report on Employment

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Many posts have discussed programs to provide them with training and experience

A release from the Kessler Foundation:
The major economic indicators continue to reflect increasing inclusion of Americans with disabilities in the workforce, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment – Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD). Results from a new national survey show that many employers have implemented practices and processes for recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining people with disabilities. The 2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey: Supervisor Perspectives underscores where success is being achieved and reveals opportunities for maximizing inclusion in the workplace.

In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Friday, November 3 , the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 27.9 percent in October 2016 to 30.5 percent in October 2017 (up 9.3 percent; 2.6 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also increased from 73.1 percent in October 2016 to 73.7 percent in October 2017 (up 0.8 percent; 0.6 percentage points). The employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population (the number of people working divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100).
The labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities increased from 31.3 percent in October 2016 to 33.3 percent in October 2017 (up 6.4 percent; 2 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate also increased from 76.5 percent in October 2016 to 76.6 percent in October 2017 (up 0.1 percent; 0.1 percentage points). The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work.
The report does not include separate data on employment of autistic people.

Earlier this year,  A BLS release led with a lower employment figure, but it included senior citizens.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thor and Exceptional Minds

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Many posts have discussed programs to provide them with training and experience

The special bond between autism and comic book heroes was once again evident at Wednesday’s cast and crew screening of Marvel’s latest movie "Thor: Ragnarok," which was attended by eight visual effects artists from Exceptional Minds Studio.
The artists – all young adults on the autism spectrum – are both Marvel fans and working professionals who provide visual cleanup for feature films. Exceptional Minds artists have done visual effects for Marvel movies "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Doctor Strange," "X-Men: Apocalypse," "Captain America: Civil War," "Ant-Man," and "Avengers: Age of Ultron."
"Thor: Ragnarok" is the eighth Marvel movie for the artists at Exceptional Minds Studio, the only visual effects and animation studio staffed entirely by professionals on the autism spectrum.
During Wednesday’s screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles, Marvel Studios Executive Vice President of Physical Production Victoria Alonso applauded the work done by Exceptional Minds and encouraged others to learn from the studio’s example. “What a wealth of untapped potential exists in this extraordinary group of young adults,” she said.
Since opening its doors almost four years ago, the small studio has done tracker marker removal, split screen, green screen keying, and rotoscoping for compositing as well as end title credit work and animation for more than 50 major motion pictures and/or television series.
"Thor: Ragnarok" opens in theaters today, November 3, as the third film in the Thor franchise featuring the god of thunder, and promises to be Marvel’s highest scoring movie yet.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Tax Plan Would Hurt Disability Families

The Politics of Autism includes a discussion of tax issues including the ABLE Act.

Many families of people with disabilities face daunting medical bills.  Some use the medical expense deduction.  The Trump-supported tax cut bill would take it away.

Lydia Ramsey reports at Business Insider:
The Republican tax plan repeals an itemized deduction that applies to healthcare expenses. That's key for families with high medical costs, like those dealing with chronic conditions that require medical devices and other expensive equipment. Right now, those expenses can be deducted from their taxes, but under the Republican tax plan, they wouldn't be able to.

Under current law, individuals who spend over 10% of their income on medical expenses are allowed to deduct part of those costs from their taxes. The proposed new bill would remove that deduction. According to the Internal Revenue Service, for 2016 taxes, individuals were able to deduct in an itemized way "only the amount of your unreimbursed allowable medical and dental expenses that is more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income."
The IRS broadly defines medical expenses as the "costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body," including insurance premiums, devices, and long-term care.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Disability Advocates Distrust DeVos

In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Recently, DeVos has taken some regulatory activities that concern advocates for special education.
The latest furor is of the department's own making, said Curtis Decker, the executive director of the National Disability Rights Network. He said his organization has a longstanding relationship with many of the people in the Education Department whose positions touch the lives of students with disabilities.
"They didn't have enough sense to call us and say, 'We're about to do this thing, don't worry, [the guidance] is pretty old, don't freak out,'" Decker said.
And, he said, the Trump administration has stirred up concerns among advocates that protections for people with disabilities are fair game for cuts or elimination that go well beyond special education. Proposed changes to Medicaid or to housing vouchers also affect people with disabilities, he said.
Funding concerns are also a factor. The approximately $13 billion for special education in the current federal budget is one of the biggest pots of money distributed by the Education Department.
There's no proposal on the table to cut special education funding. But, Decker noted, "If they're looking for savings, we're a fat little bird sitting there waiting to be cooked. We're all incredibly on edge."