SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Families raising kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder should soon see better access to behavioral health care.

Two bills passed both the House and Senate at the Capitol Thursday, paving the way for increased access to Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapists (ABAs). The therapy is increasingly recommended for children growing up with Autism. There are few provider options in central Illinois, partially because this is a fairly new type of treatment.

Chris and Ashley Ohl in Danville are still on a two-year-long journey to find this therapy at an affordable rate for their 5-year-old son Weston, who is best treated with daily, hours-long sessions with an ABA. The family couldn’t find a single therapist who fit the description in Vermilion County and finally turned to a therapist based out of Lafeyette, Indiana who travels to their home.

However, a couple of changes to insurance and the lack of alternative providers in central Illinois forced the family to cut off therapy for a period of time. That’s when the Ohls say Weston rapidly regressed. His symptoms were apparent in holes in the drywall at their home. The craters were created by Weston’s head and fists.

Weston is now back to seeing the in-home ABA therapist from Indiana. The company, Applied Behavioral Mental Health Counseling, agreed to work with him while the back and forth with his family and their insurance company continued.

In the process of trying out multiple insurance plans, the Ohl family applied and was approved for Medicaid through the state. That’s how reporters learned options for ABA therapists covered by insurance are even slimmer for patients on Medicaid, nearly non-existent.

The hold-up is a provision in state law (Illinois Public Act 101-10) that says treatment by an ABA therapist will be covered only when ordered by a physician, in this case, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who oversees the treatment. That seemingly small amendment disqualified 98% of the ABA provider pool in the state, according to the Illinois Autism Task Force in its most recent annual progress report published in February 2021.

The passage of the Behavior Analyst Licensing Act Thursday appears to give families the option to bypass the fewer number of BCBAs and go straight into treatment with an ABA. The House Bill sets up a system and requirements for licensure of these therapists in the state, in turn, setting up a pathway for patients to be able to access their therapists at a more affordable rate by ensuring Medicaid plans must cover a portion of the cost.

Another bill passed Thursday says the Department of Human Services must submit a yearly report to the General Assembly that details how (and if) patients are receiving access to affordable ABA therapy going forward. The Autism-Reporting Requirements Bill also orders the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Department of Insurance “to provide all necessary data upon request to the Department of Human Services to facilitate the timely and accurate completion of the report.”

Both bills await the governor’s signature.