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Virginia Drops Ball On Licensing For Autism Treatment

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Virginia legislators have not stepped up to fill the licensing procedures required by Gov. McDonnell's amendment to an insurance mandate for autism treatment.
Jen Goellnitz: http://www.flickr.com/photos/goellnitz/5277987497/
Virginia legislators have not stepped up to fill the licensing procedures required by Gov. McDonnell's amendment to an insurance mandate for autism treatment.

Lawmakers in Virginia took a historic step in 2011 and passed legislation requiring insurance companies to cover some autism-related healthcare treatments. But with the 2012 legislative session weeks away, it appears the fight over how to provide help to families with autistic children may be far from over.

Before Governor Bob McDonnell signed this year's autism insurance mandate into law, he amended the legislation, adding the requirement that providers of Behavior Analysis, the therapy autism experts believe is most effective, would have to be licensed by the state board of medicine.

The mechanics of the licensing process were unclear, but Teresa Champion, the mother of an autistic teenager and president of the Virginia Autism Project, says the Governor assured her group that things would be worked out by the end of the year.

"We were assured that in the interim -- until this license was in place -- families would not be denied coverage," says Champion.

This fall, the state board of medicine decided it needed more guidance to establish a licensing process for autism related healthcare providers. That means insurance companies can hold off on providing coverage, since there are currently no state-licensed behavior analysts in Virginia. As it stands now, families who are expecting coverage to begin Jan. 1 won't be getting it.

"I know that it could be fixed, and if people are not stepping up to fix it, than I say, 'what is your real intent,'" Champion says.

Of the 27 states that have passed autism healthcare laws, only 5 others require a state license from behavior analysts in order to be covered by insurance. Dr. Ted Hoch, who runs George Mason University's certification program, says a state licensing program in Virginia would be a good thing.

"It would make the services available to more children with autism, and would make insurance reimbursement easier," says Hoch.

Two Northern Virginia lawmakers are working on legislation intended to address the delay. Republican Delegate Tag Greason intends to introduce a bill establishing a provisional license system, and Democratic State Senator Janet Howell is working on a bill that would scrap the state license requirement altogether.

The Governor's office did not respond to requests for comment on this story.  

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