Tampa family seeks support to secure services for their autistic child after Medicaid termination of around 460k kids

A Tampa father nearly gave up after his autistic kid was pulled from Medicaid.

Chaz, 5, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and is nonverbal. Drew Peterson said his kid tried public school but found success in applied behavior analysis, or ABA therapy, which was fully covered by Medicaid via the Department of Children and Families during COVID.

“When you’re in that middle-class area, it’s very difficult to find services but during the pandemic you could, so he was able to go do ABA therapy for almost a full year,” Peterson went on to say.

Chaz has been receiving ABA therapy five days a week since 2021 to help him with everyday tasks such as communication and potty training.

“We were cut in October and he lost all of his services abruptly,” Peterson said. “We were on our way to service one day and basically got an email saying he’s been cut for Medicaid.”

Chaz’s parents went to the DCF office in Tampa to lobby for their kid, and his services were reinstated. However, Chaz was officially dropped last month.

“We’re not impoverished, but we have a child whose services are much greater than our income,” Peterson told the audience.

Peterson was advised that his salary exceeds the maximum for his son to qualify. When children lose their Medicaid coverage, they should be immediately enrolled in Florida KidsCare, a children’s health insurance program. Peterson discovered that it didn’t cover ABA therapy.

“It really seems like the bus stops before the Florida Medicaid, that’s where I think the issue lies,” Peterson added.

Chaz is one of 34,000 children in Hillsborough County alone who have lost Medicaid coverage since April 2023. The numbers across the state are staggering—460,000 children have been dropped, according to the Florida Policy Institute. DCF has spent the past year examining Medicaid eligibility because Congress repealed a pandemic-era rule on March 31, 2023.

During the pandemic, states were compelled to provide Medicaid coverage for those enrolled in the program, even if they were no longer eligible. The process of discontinuing that coverage has been dubbed “Medicaid unwind.” 8 On Your Side has contacted DCF about this and is waiting to hear back.

“According to Medicaid, if we got that formal medical determination that formal denial from Social Security, he would get Medicaid so that’s what we tried to do and we were denied three times,” he went on to say.

It has created heartache for Peterson, and without therapy, Chaz is regressing.

8 On Your Side contacted DCF, SSA, Bay Area Legal Services, and Hillsborough County Public Schools to seek assistance for Chaz. All entities stated that they are working on a viable solution.

“It shouldn’t be this difficult,” he remarked. “Just help me get my kid services that’s all I want.”

If you believe the termination of Medicaid is incorrect, do not understand why it is happening, or did not receive a notice of termination, the Florida Health Justice Project says you must file an appeal by Easter Sunday to avoid a drop in coverage by emailing [email protected].

The Florida Health Justice Project has prepared a toolkit that walks parents through what they need to accomplish. It also provided an email template for individuals filing an appeal.

According to the Florida Health Justice Project, if you know that your child is no longer eligible for Medicaid due to family income, believe that your child’s case has been sent to Florida KidCare, and want to check status to ensure there is no break in coverage as of April 1, contact Suzetta Furlong at Florida KidCare at [email protected].

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