Autism Speaks Commends Sen. Menendez for Insisting Autism Therapies Ge

NEW YORK (Feb. 21, 2012) – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) pressed U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to insure that the states include behavioral health treatments for autism as they implement the Affordable Care Act, expressing “serious concern” that the federal government’s efforts thus far have fallen short. Autism Speaks applauded the remarks by Senator Menendez, who is among a group of Senate and House champions that continues to fight for a strong federal commitment to meaningful autism insurance coverage.

During a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee last week, Menendez said Congress in writing the 2010 law “assured all qualified health plans would include behavioral health service as part of the essential benefits package. Among the universe of those who see those benefits are those who have family members in the autism spectrum.”

Peter Bell, Autism Speaks’ executive vice president for programs and services, said, “Autism Speaks applauds Senator Menendez for holding the federal government accountable to the autism community as it implements health care reform. Behavioral health treatments for autism were included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act as an 'essential health benefit' at the approval of Congress. Senator Menendez, along with many other colleagues in both the Senate and the House have been emphatic that HHS require the states to incorporate the coverage as they implement the law."

In recent guidance issued to the states, HHS identified several benchmark plans the states could use as they work towards a 2014 deadline to implement the Affordable Care Act.

“I am concerned that HHS’ recent bulletin on the essential benefits health package refers to states using a benchmark plan as the basis for the essential benefits health package,” Menendez told Sebelius. “But because of the current patchwork of state autism coverage requirements and exemptions, I know I’m not alone in the serious concerns that the benchmarking plan is insufficient to assure that behavioral treatment is available to all qualified health plans as the law dictates it to be.”

Menendez previously had issued a letter to Secretary Sebelius identifying similar concerns and stressing that behavioral health treatments for autism were required by law by Congress. To date, 29 states representing 70% of the U.S. population have enacted autism insurance reform laws that require state-regulated health plans provide coverage for evidence-based autism therapies including behavioral health treatments.