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Kids With Autism Face Health Care Disparities, Study Finds

FRIDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) -- Although children with autism spectrum disorders need more health care services, they have less access to specialized care than children with other conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, according to a new study.

The services used by children with autism are also more costly, the researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia revealed in the report published in the July-September issue of Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

"Across the board, children with autism spectrum disorders used more health care services, including in-patient stays in the hospital, and required more medications," study co-author Nancy Cheak-Zamora, assistant professor of health sciences in the university's School of Health Professions, said in a university news release.

"Children's insurance companies paid more for services, and parents also paid more, with their out-of-pocket costs often exceeding a thousand dollars per year," she added.

Autism spectrum disorder is the umbrella term for a group of developmental disorders with similar features, ranging from Asperger's syndrome at the mild end to full-blown autism. In general, it is a complex disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication, and is often marked by obsessive and repetitive behaviors.

For their investigation, the researchers examined previous studies that calculated the total health care costs paid by the families of children with autism spectrum disorders. In analyzing the information, they found that children with autism, who are at risk for other conditions, such as seizures, sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal problems, paid more for the care they received than other kids with illnesses that required specialized care.

"Children with autism spectrum disorders need coordinated health care, better access to services and more affordable care," said Cheak-Zamora. "Insurance companies should develop policies that will cover the treatments children with autism spectrum disorders need."

The study authors concluded that children with autism spectrum disorders should have a "medical home," which is the term for coordinated team care led by a primary care physician.

"In general, having a medical home helps ensure you have quality health care. It examines how well your health care providers are giving you coordinated care in which the family is truly a partner," explained Cheak-Zamora. "We found that children with autism spectrum disorders have medical homes less often than children with other special health care needs. This is a problem because families without a medical home report experiencing more financial problems and difficulties accessing and utilizing needed medical services."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about health disparities.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: University of Missouri-Columbia, news release, June 11, 2012

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