Supporting People with Autism through Medicaid

About 3.5 million Americans in the United States live with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including 1.5 million children. Medicaid covers more than half of these children, serving as a lifeline for them and their families. That’s more Americans are receiving the care they need. Organizations are raising awareness about ASD and promoting inclusivity for people living with it.

According to Angela Lello, Senior Director for Public Policy at Autism Speaks, “Medicaid plays a key role in helping people with autism and their families access the care and support they need throughout their lives,” Lello says.

Advocacy work by Autism Speaks, a Modern Medicaid Alliance member, helps Medicaid improve access to autism services. In New Mexico, Autism Speaks worked with the legislature to pass landmark legislation that covers access to applied behavior analysis (ABA). This type of therapy help providers determine factors that impact behavior and learning. ABA aims to increase behaviors that are helpful, like communication, and decrease those that are harmful.

Medicaid is a proven incubator for innovative programs – and often the only funder for those programs as well. One key Medicaid initiative is providing individuals with ASD the opportunity to participate in structured activities and employment training. J-Jaye, an Autism Response Team Associate at Autism Speaks, sees these activities as a crucial to development for her 13-year-old son who lives with autism – and they enable her and her husband to continue to work.

Medicaid also supports respite care, where short-term care programs offer relief to primary caregivers and families. This includes services like summer camp for children with autism. This is another way Medicaid supports J-Jaye and her family: “The six-week summer camp program for my son is entirely covered by his Medicaid waiver and provides both opportunities for him to interact with other children and relief for my family,” she says.

While Medicaid provides important benefits to people with ASD, there are currently threats to reduce funding or change coverage. “In some cases, a reduction in funding would be disastrous,” Lello shares. “With every cut that is made in Medicaid, you’re likely to see costs elsewhere – whether it’s the criminal justice system or increased costs or associated conditions.”

More than 1 in 5 Americans are covered by Medicaid, and the program plays an essential role in helping them get – and stay – healthy. The Modern Medicaid Alliance is committed to educating policymakers, and the public about the many ways that Medicaid strengthens our communities, saves money, and improves health.