‘Just help me get my kid services:’ Tampa boy with autism among 460K Florida kids kicked off Medicaid

‘Just help me get my kid services:’ Tampa boy with autism among 460K Florida kids kicked off Medicaid

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Tampa dad has nearly given up after his son who has autism was dropped from Medicaid.

Chaz, 5, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and is nonverbal. Drew Peterson said his son tried attending public school, but ultimately saw success in applied behavior analysis, or ABA therapy, which had been completely covered by Medicaid under 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 said.

Since 2021, Chaz had been attending ABA therapy five days a week to help him with everyday skills from speech to potty training.

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“We were cut in October and he lost all of his services abruptly,” said Peterson. “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 advocate for their son and got his services restored. But last month, Chaz was dropped for good.

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

Peterson was told he makes over the income limit for his son to qualify. When kids lose Medicaid coverage, they are supposed to be automatically enrolled in Florida KidsCare, a health insurance program for kids. Peterson found that it did not cover ABA therapy.

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

Chaz is one of 34,000 kids in Hillsborough County alone who lost Medicaid coverage since April 2023. Across the state, the numbers are staggering—460,000 children have been dropped, according to the Florida Policy Institute. In the past year, DCF has been reviewing Medicaid eligibility after Congress ended a pandemic-era rule effective on March 31, 2023.

During the pandemic, states were required to provide continuous Medicaid coverage of those enrolled in the program, even if they were no longer eligible. The process of ending that coverage has been called “Medicaid unwind.” 8 On Your Side 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 said.

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It’s caused heartache for Peterson and without therapy, Chaz is regressing.

8 On Your Side went to DCF, SSA, Bay Area Legal Services and Hillsborough County Public Schools to get help for Chaz. All entities said they are working on a possible solution.

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

If you believe that the termination of Medicaid might be incorrect, or if you do not understand why it is happening, or if you did not receive a notice of termination, Florida Health Justice Project said you need to make an appeal by Easter Sunday to avoid a drop in coverage by sending an email to appeal.hearings@myflfamilies.com.

Florida Health Justice Project has created a toolkit that guides parents step by step on what they need to do. It also shared an email template for those making an appeal.

Florida Health Justice Project also said if you know that your child is no longer eligible for Medicaid due to family income, and believe that your child’s case has been sent to Florida Kidcare and you want to check status to ensure there is no break in coverage as of April 1,  you can contact Suzetta Furlong at Florida KidCare at furlongs@healthykids.org.

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