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Military families with autistic children say they’re frustrated and concerned.
Starting next week Thursday, TRICARE military insurance provider will change its policy when it comes to autism coverage.
“It’s really frustrating. I don’t really understand why they are making these changes,” mother Zebonee Bongiorno said.
Bongiorno is a military wife and proud mother of two young boys. But 2-year-old Luka and Giovani, who is going to be 4 years old, behave differently compared to other children.
“He stopped giving eye contact. He wasn’t as affectionate as before and he stopped calling me mom, which was the biggest and most heart-breaking thing,” Bongiorno said. “Our youngest, he pretty much lost all his skills at 18 months.”
Both her sons have autism and Bongiorno is not alone. More than half of the clients at this Halawa behavioral treatment facility come from military families.
Next week Thursday, TRICARE is changing its autism coverage. They will require progress testing every six months, and waiver applications for children younger than two and older than 16 years old.
“In fact, research really does show the opposite,” Hawaii Association of Behavior Analysis Former President Anne Lau said.
On its website, TRICARE says that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) benefits not covered under its new plan include treatment in group settings, educational-vocational rehab services and respite care.
Parents of autistic children say these new rules could negatively impact their lives.
“Because of ABA therapy, we had a lot of hope and now I feel like that’s being taken away,” Bongiorno said.
One of the major issues is the required waiver application if treatment exceeds two years.
“Our biggest concern is if there is going to be an interruption in services because we need the continuity,” mother Jennifer Frazier said.
TRICARE says, “Although ABA is not limited to a set number of years, additional ABA beyond two years requires approval by the regional contractor medical director.”
“We don’t know what we are going to do. Really, we don’t know,” Bongiorno said.
Some lawmakers in our nation’s Capitol have called upon TRICARE to review their new rules.
Phone calls to TRICARE officials were not returned.