Autism therapy centers in South Carolina are closing, services are in jeopardy

Autism therapy centers in South Carolina are closing, services are in jeopardy

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Dozens of children with autism in the Columbia area will no longer be able to receive critical therapy services after June 30. Those changes in Medicaid reimbursements are dealing a major blow to some families with autism.

Just in the last year, 20 percent of providers offering autism therapy in South Carolina have had to close their doors including Palmetto Autism Intervention here in Columbia.

That means there are 70 local children with Medicaid that previously went to that facility, but in the next month will no longer have access to those services.

Compared to the rest of the country, South Carolina has the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rate for therapists.

"Families are unable to access the treatment at all because they cannot find an ABA provider who is able to serve them for the very low rates that Medicaid reimburses," Autism Academy Founder Lorri Unumb said.

ABA is Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, and while providers are normally reimbursed $30 to $60 an hour, the rate in South Carolina is as low as $14.

"You have to pay rent. You have to pay the electric bill. You have to pay your staff. You have to pay workers comp, liability, all of these other overhead costs," Unumb said.

This makes it hard to maintain everyday operations and has forced many agencies to simply shut their doors.

"My first born child, Ryan, was diagnosed with autism shortly before his second birthday," Unumb said. "They said if you want him to have any shot at a functional life, you need to get him in ABA treatment right away."

Chris Keenan is a board certified behavior analyst.

"[The goal is] to try and help these children learn the skills that they need so that they can be more successful in their home life, out in their community, and transitioning back into a school setting," Keenan said. "Sometimes overcoming those small little barriers can allow a child to flourish and really succeed."

But Unumb said that there are many ways for people to help pushing this cause.

"I would suggest reaching out to the governor's office and the Department of Health and Human Services to say, 'hey, we support this increase' because we want our friends and neighbors suffering from autism to be able to get the treatment that their doctors recommend," Unumb said.

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