Utah lawmakers celebrate, but autism donations yet to appear
Donations • Funding promised by private donors remains elusive.
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Elected leaders celebrated Wednesday a public-private partnership that will fund a new autism treatment pilot, but the exact financial commitment by a Utah bank and insurance companies is yet to be disclosed.

Only Intermountain Healthcare said after a press conference at the state capitol that it planned to contribute $500,000 to the two-year program. The state has yet to receive any donations.

A Regence BlueCross BlueShield representative attended but said the company does not plan to contribute to the pilot, having contributed $450,000 through its foundation to an autism program at the University of Utah last year. Zions Bank has said it will make a donation but has declined to specify the amount.

Altius was named as a donor in a press release but did not attend the conference and did not return a call for comment.

Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, the sponsor of the legislation that created the program, said she expects donations to reach $1 million. The pilot program is designed to allow about 300 children to receive behavioral treatment. The vast majority of those would be served through Medicaid in a program that will launch this fall.

Twenty-three children with autism whose families are covered by the Public Employees Health Program are approved for treatment, but must contribute as much as $6,000 annually to take advantage of the maximum state benefit. Treatment for another several dozen children whose insurance does not cover autism will be paid for, in part, by the autism treatment fund. The exact number of children will depend upon how much private money is received.

For the past several months, state officials and parents have wondered when those dollars would appear. During the last legislative session, some parents had pushed for a mandate to force insurers to cover treatment. Menlove's pilot was pitched as an alternative, and was supported by insurers and some parents.

Legislators focused Wednesday on the collaboration that gave birth to the pilot program while acknowledging that much work remains to be done.

"This is not a mission accomplished banner behind us," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper. "This is the beginning of what we need to do."

jlyon@sltrib.com —

Autism in Utah

O To learn more about the pilot program and other services, go to the Department of Health website. > health.utah.gov/cshcn/autism.html