Autism Speaks honors Texas State Representative Donna Howard for advocacy on behalf of autism communityJanuary 18, 2024
Autism Speaks was proud to present State Representative Donna Howard with our 2023 Public Service Award for her unwavering support and advocacy on behalf of the autism community in Texas. The award was bestowed upon Representative Howard in mid-December in recognition of her effort during the past legislative session to improve access to autism services for children, teens and young adults under Texas Medicaid.
Historically a champion for the autism community, Representative Howard’s advocacy continued during the 2023 Texas House session. She led a push for accountability from the state Medicaid program regarding the availability of autism services, particularly Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is a widely recognized and effective behavioral therapy for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is a treatment within the generally accepted standard of care for autism and covered under most insurance plans.
With an estimated 80,000 Medicaid-enrolled Texas children diagnosed with ASD, timely access to evidence-based treatments, including ABA, is crucial. Unfortunately, the path to coverage under Medicaid for ABA services in Texas has been challenging. In June of 2019, Governor Abbott signed a budget bill that required Texas Medicaid to cover medically necessary care, including ABA, for all Medicaid-enrolled children in the state with ASD. However, due to COVID-19, the implementation of coverage for autism services was delayed. Autism Speaks has since continued efforts to ensure effective implementation, share information on accessing and utilizing the new benefit and address issues of low provider rates and utilization under the program.
The importance of addressing these challenges and ensuring equitable access to ABA services will receive greater attention in the coming year if the House leadership approves Representative Howard’s request for a study of the program during the interim period (the 18-month period in between regular sessions of the Texas Legislature). In the meantime, Autism Speaks remains committed to working collaboratively to address the needs of the autism community and promote access to essential services. We are grateful for Representative Donna Howard for her dedication and advocacy toward making a significant impact on improving the lives of individuals with autism in Texas.