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Utah Children's Autism Program Accepting 35 New Applicants

Utah parents of children with autism can now apply for limited spaces in a treatment program. The state Department of Health’s Medicaid Autism Waiver Program opened enrollment Monday for 35 children under 7 years old, but advocates in the autism community say it’s not enough. 

The Medicaid waiver provides health insurance coverage for intensive behavioral therapy. Jon Owen is President of the Utah Autism Coalition, and the father of a 6-year-old with autism. He has already submitted his application to the Utah Department of Health.

“For the lucky 35 who get through the process, it could really give their children a chance to get services that are really important,” Owen says.

The program was funded as a pilot project during last year’s legislative session to provide treatment for about 250 children who are clinically-diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This year, the Department of Health has room for 35 more. Autism advocate Christine Passey says therapy has helped her daughter, but she says Utahns need more than a few waivers.

“I wouldn’t even say it’s scratching the service. In Utah, 1 in 47 children have autism. So the waiver is helping like less than 2 percent of children with autism in the state. It’s nice that 35 more kids will get services because they need it, but it’s not doing anything substantial to help children with autism in Utah,” Passey says.

State Republican Senator Brian Shiozawa sponsored a bill in the last legislative session that would mandate insurance coverage of autism testing and treatment, but it failed to pass the House. Both Passey and Owen say they will be advocating for similar legislation next year.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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