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State extends licensing deadline for specialists to treat autistic children

| Friday, March 22, 2013, 6:00 p.m.

The state Department of Public Welfare said on Friday that it will extend for a year a licensing deadline for behavioral specialists who treat autistic children.

The Tribune-Review reported this week that specialists were facing a May 26 deadline to meet new requirements and to be licensed in order for insurance to cover their treatments.

Agencies and support groups said the deadline would disrupt service.

The department said that of the 2,500 to 3,000 behavior specialists in Pennsylvania, 540 had applied for the license. Local agencies said some of their other specialists would qualify for the license, but they were still gathering paperwork to apply.

In a letter to parents, Beverly D. Mackereth, acting secretary of the department, said DPW told managed care organizations that they can pay for services by unlicensed specialists “who are reasonably likely to qualify for a behavioral specialist license during the transition period.”

Welfare department spokeswoman Carey Miller said organizations will pay specialists who applied if they believe they will be licensed by Jan. 1. The organizations also will pay specialists who could obtain the qualifications and apply for the license by Jan. 1, 2014.

The Department of State has until May 26, 2014, to issue licenses.

The Pennsylvania Medicaid Policy Center estimates 21,000 children in the state are autistic.

Luciana Randall, executive director of Aboard's Autism Connection of PA, said the extension “is OK for people now. Some will get through. Some will not.”

She added that she's still concerned that the requirement for 1,000 hours of hands-on training will keep some from obtaining a license.

“The pool of (specialists) is going to shrink,” Randall said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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