An Autism Agenda for the Lame Duck Congress

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 View Comments ABLE, military families, threat of budget cuts to be focus through end of year

by Stuart Spielman, Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel

Congress returns today to Washington to tackle a weighty agenda of items that need to be addressed before the newly elected Congress takes office in January. The widely reported “fiscal cliff,” the mix of looming tax and spending issues, has dominated the headlines and affects federal funding for autism research and services. But there are other issues that Congress must not overlook:

  • TRICARE Reform – The House has already passed its version of the new defense budget, the National Defense Authorization Act, which strengthens the coverage of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and other behavioral health treatments under TRICARE, the health care program for military families. TRICARE currently provides only limited ABA coverage.  Retirees, including wounded warriors, cannot get coverage for their children and those military families who can access ABA often bump up against dollar caps. 

We can and should do better for the children of those who serve our country.The Senate and ultimately the full Congress should send President Obama a defense budget that removes TRICARE’s arbitrary limits on medically necessary autism care.

  • Disability Savings – The House and the Senate are both considering the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, a bill that would authorize tax-advantaged savings accounts for the  needs of people with disabilities. Current law encourages savings for future college costs.  Whether or not they attend college people with autism need a way to save for medical care, employment support, housing, and other major expenses. ABLE accounts would meet this need and preserve a beneficiary’s eligibility for Medicaid and other means-tested federal programs.

ABLE enjoys broad bipartisan support in both the House (240 cosponsors) and the Senate (38 cosponsors), uniting legislators across the political spectrum. Many organizations throughout the disability community are working together on this effort. Any tax package that moves through Congress during the lame duck session should include ABLE.

The autism community continues to face tremendous challenges. Gone are the days when autism was considered a rare disorder. Also gone are the days when it was thought nothing much could be done to help affected individuals and their families.

In its waning days, the 112th Congress must avoid spending cuts that devastate the programs on which the autism community relies. At the same time, the current Congress should take advantage of the opportunity to enact TRICARE reform and the ABLE Act, common sense measures that will make life better for the children and adults affected by autism -- our 1 in 88 -- and those who love them.

You can help us achieve these goals by registering for Autism Votes at advocacy.autismspeaks./register. By signing up, you will receive updates on the progress of legislation important to the autism community and periodic requests to contact your federal lawmakers to take specific actions, such as cosponsoring or voting for a bill.