Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
After criticism, Utah plans pay hike for tutors in autism project
Medicaid » Providers had wondered if low wages would threaten project’s effectiveness.
First Published Dec 05 2012 08:47 am • Last Updated Apr 08 2013 11:32 pm

To interest more therapists in treating children with autism in a new state pilot, Utah’s Medicaid program is planning to increase their pay.

It recently sought permission from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to boost what the reimbursement rate for tutors who will provide free applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA) to children with the social and communication disorder.

At a glance

What’s next

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has 90 days to review Utah’s proposal to increase the pay for tutors in its autism pilot program.

Applied behavior analysis

ABA » It has been used since the ’60s to help people with autism. Through positive reinforcement, children can acquire basic skills, including looking, listening and imitating, the advocacy group Autism Speaks says.

In some cases » Preschoolers who have intensive therapy can eventually participate in regular classrooms with little extra support. But some show no improvement, so it is hard to predict how much each child will benefit.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Authorized by the Utah Legislature, the pilot program will cover 250 children ages 2 through 6, through June 2014.

The children were chosen by lottery for slots distributed throughout the state. The Utah Department of Health has already started enrolling 225 children and continues to notify other families who made the cut.

The families must verify their child has a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Then, they must enroll in Medicaid. However, unlike traditional poverty-based Medicaid plans, the family’s income is not taken into account.

Once they’re fully enrolled, the families will be able to pick a provider.

The increased pay rate, along with other assurances from Medicaid, means families will have more contractors to choose from than before.

Just two providers had initially applied to work with the children. The pay rate was originally set at $21.52 an hour for the tutors, who would provide 20 hours of in-home therapy a week. ABA therapists had said the rate was too low for their experienced tutors.

After surveying the therapists about what rate was practical, Medicaid bumped it to $28.32, based on satisfying three out of five providers who responded to the survey. As of Tuesday, seven providers had sought Medicaid contracts.

Still, as before, a tutor could make as little as $14.42 an hour depending on what providers allot for insurance and training costs.

story continues below
story continues below

To stay within the $15 million pilot budget, children will receive 15 hours of therapy a week, said Medicaid spokeswoman Kolbi Young. It won’t reduce the number of children served, she added.

One of the critics, Breanne Berg, with Apex Behavior Consulting, said she will now apply to be a provider even though the rates remain low.

"We feel that the health department made a good faith effort in raising the rate," she said in an email. "We are excited to start serving some of the families who have been chosen in the lottery."

Jeff Skibitsky, owner of Alternative Behavior Strategies, said he decided to seek the Medicaid contract even before the rates increased.

His main concern had been the low qualifications Medicaid set for tutors: age 18 with a high school diploma and 20 hours of autism training.

That makes sense in a group therapy setting where the tutors have constant supervision, he said. But not when the tutor will be working alone with the child in their home with occasional supervision.

The qualifications haven’t changed, but Skibitsky said he received assurances that Medicaid would continue to evaluate it.

"They’re listening. They’re trying to do what they should be doing," he said.

He noted that the new Medicaid rate, which is about 70 percent of what some private insurers pay, would allow contractors to make a small profit.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.