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Why Employers Care

A recent report concluded that one in every 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder.1 This estimate makes autism spectrum disorders more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.2 The high and increasing prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is a concern to employers because of a linkage to higher rates of anxiety and depression among parents; lost productivity; and higher health care utilization and costs.

Currently, there is no cure for autism spectrum disorders. There are a variety of therapies that seek to decrease the associated symptoms, improve communication and engagement, promote independence and improve quality of life.3

What Can Employers Do?

Coverage of therapies for autism spectrum disorders varies widely among large employers. According to benefits consultant Mercer, the majority of large employers cover diagnostic services (73%), speech, occupational and/or physical therapies (65%), and medication management (61%). Far fewer cover intensive behavioral therapies (30%). Some employers cover intensive behavioral therapies at the request of vocal employees, out of a sense of good will, or to differentiate their benefit offerings and compete for a limited talent pool. Almost one-fifth of large employers (18%) do not cover any condition-specific autism treatments.4

There is a growing body of evidence to guide treatment choices for autism spectrum disorders, including some encouraging results on early intensive behavioral interventions.3 However, there are still significant gaps in knowledge about the comparative effectiveness of treatments and which children are likely to benefit from particular interventions. Employers can use existing health, decision support, case management and employee assistance programs to help parents of children with autism spectrum disorders make provider and treatment choices for their children and themselves.

References (show references)

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About ASD. Accessed May 13, 2014.

2 Autism Speaks. What is autism? Accessed October 6, 2011.

3 Warren Z, Veenstra-VanderWeele J, Stone W, et al. Therapies for children with autism spectrum disorders. Comparative Effectiveness Review No. 26. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. AHRQ Publication No. 11-EHC029-EF. April 2011.

4 Mercer. National survey of employer-sponsored health plans 2010. Mercer; 2011.

Page last updated: May 13, 2014

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