Hundreds of autistic kids still at risk in Pentagon spending cuts, critics say

Critics say hundreds of autistic children in military families could still lose access to medical care, even though the Pentagon has delayed some of its most controversial spending cuts.

The Pentagon last week delayed planned healthcare spending cuts after The Hill reported more than 1,100 autistic children would lose coverage.

But more than 250 autistic children could still lose access to care, even with the delay, critics say.

"If they don't address that issue, then hundreds of children will be without services once the changes go into effect later this month," Megan Miller, a behavior analyst with Navigation Behavioral Consulting, a healthcare provider that works with autistic children, said Monday.

As part of an effort to reduce its healthcare costs, the Pentagon was planning to slash payments in half to providers that work with autistic children under Tricare, the military’s healthcare plan.

The latest Tricare provider reimbursement guidelines, released in September, cut their pay from $125 a hour to between $50 and $68 an hour.

Many healthcare providers balked at the cuts, saying they wouldn’t be able to provide the services without additional compensation. If the cuts went through, providers said the services would disappear.

The Pentagon responded by delaying the spending cuts until April for some healthcare providers that would have otherwise been dropped down to $68 an hour.

But Miller said other healthcare providers could still see their pay cut to $50 an hour, because the Pentagon didn't specify whether the delay applies to them as well.

This would leave more than 250 autistic children in military families without coverage, Miller said.

The Department of Defense on Monday disputed Miller’s claim.

“The modification approved by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs delays any rate change until April 20, 2015," a Defense Department official said Monday in an email to The Hill.

That response did not satisfy Miller, who said the Pentagon was not communicating with healthcare providers and military families about the changes.

"Tricare keeps saying they are meeting with stakeholders, but they are leaving providers and families in the dark," Miller said.