Today, a congressional briefing will examine a bill set to improve the coverage and availability of autism services to military families. Under current legislation, autistic children of servicemen have very limited access to treatment services which many are calling shameful. Family of military personnel have medical insurance called TRICARE, which doesn’t cover autism services. To cover autism, families must enroll in ECHO Extended Care Health Option, which you can only apply for after you have enrolled in EFMP Exceptional Family Member Program. Aside from all the paperwork, families are required to live within distance of care programs which can be career-limiting, if a service man or woman retires via choice or medical reasons (i.e. a soldier wounded in battle), their family will no longer have the coverage.
ECHO has a cap for treatment set at $36,000. While this may sound like a substantial number, it will only cover 11-12 hours of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy a week, less than the 25-40 hours a week recommended for children (especially the young or more profoundly affected). Furthermore, the $36,000 cap covers not only autism services, but respite services and medical equipment, which would push families to choose between hours of therapy or a new wheelchair.
Furthermore, the process of accessing ECHO and getting a diagnosis can take months, and even years. Rachel Kenyon, military spouse of a sergeant major based in the US, has a daughter that is autistic and required several surgeries for her chromosomal deletion.
If it’s this hard for us and my husband’s a sergeant major, how hard is it for families of privates? Ms. Kenyon asked. Some parents do have an easier time, and that’s phenomenal. We wish that every family had that experience. But for everyone else we really shouldn’t have to wait this long to get a diagnosis and get care.
However, the bipartisan bill, the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act (H.R. 2288) was introduced by Congressmen John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones (R-NC) and is now being co-sponsored by 35 additional representatives from both parties. The bill would take autism services out of ECHO and include them into the TRICARE insurance to improve access, and remove the $36,000 cap to allow for those who need it to get more care. Furthermore, because the services would no longer be in the ECHO plan, families would not have to choose between wheelchairs and therapy.
The briefing for the bill is scheduled for today, and you can find more information on the CMKAA website.