Federal employee union will push for more autism coverage

(Jim Young/Reuters)

The American Federation of Government Employees on Thursday released a statement calling for further coverage of an autism treatment that will qualify as a federal-worker health benefit for the first time next year.

The Office of Personnel Management said it would recognize “applied behavioral analysis,” formerly known as “behavior modification,” as a medical treatment instead of as an “educational intervention.” The latter designation had prevented the treatment from qualifying as a benefit with the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. 

Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson wrote about this issue for a column on Tuesday, noting that the OPM decision allows insurance companies to cover the autism treatment but does not require them to do so. He said the federal government is still behind the curve in that regard. 

Only 67 out of 230 participating health plans offered the benefit in 2013, according to a statement from the Autism Speaks advocacy group. In D.C. and Maryland, no federal-worker insurance plans would cover it, while only one in Virginia — for the Hampton Roads and Richmond areas — would do so. 

Thursday’s statement from the federal workers’ union applauded OPM for its decision to allow the autism treatment as a benefit next year. But the group promised to press the agency to require all plans to cover applied behavioral analysis on the same terms they cover other therapeutic treatments for illnesses.

“While we consider this an important victory, we still must do more to ensure that the parents of autistic children have all the resources available to them to care for their children,” said union president J. David Cox. “Parents should not have to worry if vital services will be covered by their insurance plan.” 

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Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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