A guest blog from Katie Keith, the director of research at Trimpa Group and a former research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, who advises Autism Speaks on federal health care policy.
On Monday, Gallup released its most recent poll on the number of Americans with health insurance, which found that the uninsured rate was at its lowest level since January 2008. Even more important—particularly for the autism community—the uninsured rate appears to have fallen the most among underserved populations, such as African Americans, Latinos, and lower-income Americans.
Why is this important? Because underserved populations face disparities in autism diagnosis and care. For example, minority populations are less likely to be identified as having autism than non-minority populations. Regressive autism—in which young children lose early language and social skills—is reported twice as often among African American children. Minority children are, on average, diagnosed with autism later in life and are less likely to receive specialty care.
Delays in diagnosis have a real impact—the earlier that autism is identified, the earlier a child can receive early intervention services that improve daily functioning and other health outcomes. This is why Autism Speaks began its Early Access to Care initiative with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and and the American Academy of Pediatrics to reduce the average age of diagnosis and increase access to high-quality early intervention for all children on the autism spectrum. Through this initiative, Autism Speaks is partnering with community-based organizations across the country to improve autism awareness, early intervention, and health care.
In addition to these efforts, the Affordable Care Act could help close some of the most critical autism gaps and ensure that every family has early access to autism screening, diagnosis, and care. In particular, millions of families now have access to screening for autism at age 18 and 24 months without a co-pay or deductible. This early detection and diagnosis could help give toddlers all across the country—and especially in our most underserved populations—a head start on speech therapy, physical therapy, behavioral interventions and special education that leads to brighter futures.
Autism Speaks will remain aggressive at the federal and state levels to expand access to this care through insurance reform, increased Medicaid coverage and enhancements to the Affordable Care Act as this landmark law evolves. As a representative from Autism Speaks testified recently on Capitol Hill, these investments will yield long term savings as more individuals with disabilities achieve higher levels of functioning, reducing their dependence on taxpayer-supported services while enjoying a better quality of life.