DENVER — Many families with children with autism are at risk of losing services that help with early development, as centers close and leave the state amid funding issues.
Karmen Peak, a mom to two children with autism in Greeley, reached out to Denver7 after learning that the Hopebridge Autism Therapy Center will close in August. Denver7 confirmed that the provider will be ending its Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for autism at all locations in the state.
Peak credits ABA for “amazing changes” in her son’s ability to respond and follow directions since he began therapy a year ago. She was devastated to learn that the center would be closing.
“Those are skills that kids need, you know, to participate in school, to make friends and things like that,” Peak said, choking up at the thought of losing the services. “It’s emotional because, those are skills that he needs.”
At issue is funding through Colorado’s Medicaid Program, ran by the state’s Department of Health Care Policy and finance (HCPF). Hopebridge and advocates say rates of reimbursement have not kept up with increasing costs of care.
“We rely heavily on the reimbursement rates from Colorado Medicaid to fund the costs for quality labor, supplies, and facilities,” a statement from Hopebridge reads. “Medicaid reimbursement rates are typically below that of commercial payers but in Colorado, these lower rates are coupled with inflation and cost of living rates that are 20% higher than any other state we serve… Hopebridge has worked for years to negotiate for a stronger reimbursement rate in Colorado, with no success. Though we are withdrawing ABA therapies from Colorado at this time, we will never stop fighting for these children.”
Ken Winn, the president of the Colorado Association for Behavior Analysis (COABA), said he has been in talks with providers and state lawmakers to increase pay rates to cover services, but that change isn’t coming nearly fast enough. He said Colorado is in a “dire crisis” when it comes to care for autism, with 10 providers either closing or leaving the state within the last 18 month.
Winn said this will lengthen the already long waitlists for families seeking care, and believes the costs will be far greater to the state if the issue isn’t addressed.
“We have data to support that if the child gets early intervention, it actually saves money over time,” Winn said. “And of course, you know, there’s no real way to calculate the effects for the child — helping them become more independent, productive members of society. How do you put a price tag on that?”
Both Winn and Peak continue to speak to state leaders, pushing them to act and address reimbursement rates before other ABAs close. Meanwhile, Peak is looking into new options for her son and younger daughter, who has also been diagnosed with autism.
“This is a crisis, and it’s urgent,” Peak said. “And for all the families that are in my same situation, I just hope that, you know, we can be heard.”
A representative for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) said the decision on a rate changes must come from the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, but a separate advisory committee met earlier this week and voted to recommend an increase in rates. That recommendation will be presented to the Joint Budget Committee during the next legislative session.
"The [committee's] recommendation to the JBC is just that —a recommendation — and the JBC has the difficult task of balancing this recommendation against the other competing priorities within the state's budget," said HCPF spokesperson Marc Williams. "HCPF is tasked with implementing the budget the legislature appropriates to our department. We encourage parents whose provider has chosen to stop seeing Medicaid members, to reach out to their Regional Accountable Entity... for assistance in finding another therapist for their child."