WASHINGTON, DC (June 14, 2013) -- The U.S. House of Representatives has approved an amendment to the new defense bill that would require the Pentagon to cover ABA care for all military families raising children with developmental disabilities, including autism, at medically prescribed levels.
The bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was sponsored by Reps. John Larson (D-CT) and Tom Rooney (R-FL) and approved by voice vote. Although the full NDAA still requires House approval, passage of the ABA amendment was the critical step.
TRICARE, the military's health plan, covers ABA only for active duty personnel under its ECHO program with benefits capped at $36,000 per year. Military families and their champions in Congress have fought for several years to get uncapped ABA benefits through TRICARE for all military members regardless of their duty status or their branch of service. About 23,000 military dependents have autism.
"Our military families have waited too long for a permanent solution to the problems accessing behavioral health treatment under TRICARE," said Larson. "It's hard enough being on the battlefield away from home to have the extra burden of worrying about your kids' care."
Larson [left] said he first learned of the issue several years ago at an Autism Speaks forum in his district where he met the family of a Connecticut Army National Guard officer whose daughter has autism.
“Telling our troops that their kids can get the treatment they need this year, but maybe not next year, just isn’t good enough,” Rooney [right] said. “How can we expect our troops to re-enlist when we can’t even guarantee that their kids will get health care treatment a year from now? Our troops and their families deserve a long-term assurance that their children will receive the care they need.”
In addition to Rooney and Larson, the issue has been championed by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) and Reps. Joe Courtney (D-CT), Walter Jones (R-NC) and Mike Doyle (D-PA).
A similar ABA amendment was approved by both houses of Congress last year, but in conference committee the provision was rewritten into a one-year pilot program that TRICARE was directed to start by April 2 of this year. TRICARE has yet to start the pilot program, citing budget cuts, and has yet to alert military families or medical providers when it will begin or how it will operate.