Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that uniformed services families' health plans provide adequate coverage for children and loved ones with disabilities. The Caring for Military Children with Developmental Disabilities Act of 2014 requires TRICARE, the Department of Defense and retiree health program for members of the uniformed services and their families, to provide coverage for behavioral health treatments, including applied behavior analysis (ABA).
Under current TRICARE policies, many children are denied coverage for ABA, and those children who do receive care often receive less than the prescribed treatment. That places TRICARE behind the curve of thirty-four states and the District of Columbia, which require private insurers to cover ABA as a medically necessary service for most children with a developmental disability. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management also categorizes ABA as a "medical therapy" and covers ABA for federal employees' dependents.
"Every parent of a child with a disability wants to do everything they can to provide the best care, but for parents in the uniformed services dealing with overseas deployments and frequent moves from state to state, the challenge to access quality care is even greater," said Senator Murray. "The least we can do for our service men and women is provide quality health care for their loved ones, and this amendment ensures that promise extends to children with disabilities, too."
"Autism now affects one in 68 children in the United States, and behavioral health treatments can often help these kids learn the skills to be successful in school, in jobs, and in life," said Senator Blunt. "While many states require private insurers to cover necessary behavioral health services by law, children in military families don't always receive the same opportunities for treatment under TRICARE. This bill will ensure our military children with developmental disabilities have access to the quality care they need and deserve."
"It is alarming that our military families who have sacrificed so much are denied essential services for their children suffering from autism and other developmental disabilities," said Senator Gillibrand. "This legislation will help ensure that our military families have access to the critical services, care and support they desperately need and deserve."
"The men and women in uniform and their families make sacrifices every day to protect our country, and they deserve the guarantee that their children suffering from developmental disabilities will be given the care and treatment they need," said Senator Rubio. "No military family should have to worry that their child might not receive access to quality care, and this legislation will ensure they won't have to."
"This bipartisan bill recognizes that family members with a range of developmental disabilities can benefit from ABA therapy and ensures that all TRICARE beneficiaries will have access to it, regardless of retirement status or the color of the uniform their service member wore," said Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director of the National Military Family Association. "We are grateful for the efforts of Senators Murray, Blunt, Gillibrand, and Rubio in making this important medical treatment available to all special needs military family members."
"Association of University Centers on Disabilities applauds senators Murray, Blunt, Gillibrand, and Rubio for introducing legislation to provide behavioral health services for individual with developmental disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum," said Kim Musheno, Director of Public Policy of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. "Early behavioral interventions for these children have the potential to positively change their life trajectory."
"Access and coverage of medically recommended treatment services are vital for children with developmental disabilities. Autism Speaks commends Senators Murray, Blunt, Gillibrand, and Rubio for the leadership and efforts to improve coverage of applied behavior analysis for all TRICARE beneficiaries with developmental disabilities," said Karen Driscoll, Associate Director for Federal Government Affairs and Military Relations of Autism Speaks. "Given the unique way military families serve today and the sacrifices they make, investing the future of military children is simply the right thing to do."
Behavioral health treatments for children with developmental disabilities are widely recognized as effective therapies that can help children learn the skills to be successful in school, live independently, and find meaningful employment. However, despite the widely-recognized benefits of these treatments, they are not always available for families who receive their health care through TRICARE. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institute of Mental Health support behavioral health parity so that evidence based therapies can be accessed by children and youth with developmental disabilities. This includes systematic application of ABA for children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities.