Tampa Child with Autism Suffers as Florida Medicaid Cuts Leave Families Stranded

Tampa Child with Autism Suffers as Florida Medicaid Cuts Leave Families Stranded

After his son with autism was denied Medicaid, a father in Tampa was on the verge of giving up.

Chaz, who is five years old and nonverbal, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Applied behavior analysis, or ABA therapy, which had been fully funded by Medicaid under the Department of Children and Families during COVID, proved to be successful for Drew Peterson’s kid after he attempted attending public school.

“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 stated.

Chaz has been receiving five days a week of ABA therapy since 2021 in order to assist him with daily skills such as communication and potty training.

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

In order to fight for their son and get his services reinstated, Chaz’s parents traveled to the DCF headquarters in Tampa. However, Chaz was permanently fired last month.

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

Peterson was informed that his son cannot qualify because of his income. Children are meant to be registered automatically in Florida KidsCare, a children’s health insurance program, the moment they lose their Medicaid coverage. Peterson discovered that ABA therapy was not covered.

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

Since April 2023, Chaz is one of 34,000 children in Hillsborough County alone who are no longer eligible for Medicaid. The Florida Policy Institute reports that an astounding 460,000 children have been discarded throughout the state.

Following Congress’s repeal of a pandemic-era rule on March 31, 2023, DCF has been examining Medicaid eligibility for the past year.

State Medicaid programs had to continue to cover registered individuals during the epidemic, even if they were no longer eligible.

“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 stated.

Peterson has experienced heartbreak, and in the absence of therapy, Chaz is regressing.

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