Warner applauds military insurance program for move on autism coverage

mark-warnerU.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) applauded the TRICARE military health insurance program for clarifying a controversial change in behavioral health care coverage for families with children who have developmental disabilities, including autism.

TRICARE recently announced a rule change that would have placed thousands of military children with developmental disabilities at risk of losing treatment options unless they could demonstrate “measurable progress” every six months through stringent, standardized testing. The restrictive changes, set to take effect on July 25th, also would have set an age limit for receiving the special behavioral care treatment known as applied behavioral analysis, viewed as the most widely effective treatment for autistic children.

“I heard from dozens of Hampton Roads military families who were understandably upset about the impact of this TRICARE policy change on their kids, and it certainly appears to have been poorly thought-out. Equally frustrating was their difficulty in getting the attention of anybody at TRICARE so they could express their concerns,” Sen. Warner said. “We ask an awful lot of our military families, who already are dealing with the stress and disruption of repeated deployments and regular relocations. We should not be adding to that stress,  especially for military families who are caring for young children with unique challenges.”

After hearing from several Virginia military families, Sen. Warner on Wednesday  contacted TRICARE to express concerns about these controversial changes. The following day, on Thursday, TRICARE officials clarified their previous statements, and announced the proposed rules changes would not be applied to active-duty military families after all.

For “any active-duty family member currently enrolled in the [extended care program], there is no change in their requirements on July 25. They can continue to get the same care under the same rules going forward,” Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant defense secretary for health affairs, said during a conference call with reporters. “For all of the existing programs,there is no plan to implement more rigorous requirements during the next year. We are apologetic to the autism community because we know there has been some controversy over the issue.”

The leading advocacy group Autism Speaks also applauded TRICARE’s decision, calling it “a positive step in the right direction.”   “I am very, very pleased we were able to get the attention of TRICARE officials so we could provide this reassurance to these Virginia families,” Sen. Warner said.

Since joining the U.S. Senate in 2009, Sen. Warner has consistently worked to protect Virginia’s military families and veterans. In 2010, Sen. Warner enlisted Northern Virginia’s leading technology companies in a pro-bono effort to help address the Army’s chronic recordkeeping challenges and burial errors at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2011, he intervened to insist that the Navy upgrade substandard military family housing in Hampton Roads.  In 2010 and 2011, he successfully worked with the Veterans Administration to expand access nationwide to PTSD treatment services for female veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, Sen. Warner has championed the efforts of The College of William & Mary’s Puller Veterans Clinic to assist veterans in successfully applying for V-A disability benefits – a program which the V-A has agreed to highlight as a national model.

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