It always amazes me at how controversial political announcements can be. The recent autism announcement (February 6th, 2019) by the Ontario PC party is such an example.
How can proactively addressing 14 of the 19 improvements suggested by the Ontario Autism Coalition be a bad thing? This announcement should be received as offered, instead of letting politics and rumors sway opinions.
The improvement at the top of the priority list is a vow to clear the waitlist within 18 months, as hinted at in election promises. The current wait list is excruciatingly long; here are some numbers to put things in perspective:
- 23,000 children are currently on the waitlist
- 8400 are currently in the program
- 2400 are still waiting for an assessment, that wait is an average of 31 months, after which they might get on the program waitlist.
Another suggested improvement will direct money to the parents of these children instead of a government agency so the parents can hire private therapists to come to the comfort of their own home at their own convenience. While increased flexibility is great, the catch (for many) is the strict money management required including records and timesheets.
This announcement was in response to a 2017 revision of the autism program by the Wynne government that gave parents the option between receiving therapy from government funded services or receiving funding directly to pay private therapists. This option did little however to reduce the wait lists within a year of implementation. Some parents also complained that the government funded service providers actually discouraged them from choosing the private therapist option. Hmmmmm, sounds self-serving to me!
The new rules will be more fair to all families, especially those in greatest need such as the ones with lower incomes. That’s because the income salary cap has been lowered, so high income families (more than 250K) will no longer be eligible, allowing more funding for lower income earners to offset their financial burdens.
That makes sense (to me) as higher salary earners generally have better health benefits that would cover some of the costs. They also have accrued pension income meaning they will not have to dip into their long term savings. These medical costs are also tax deductible, a bonus for both the wealthy and not so wealthy.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big supporter of working hard to achieve your status in life. Higher salaries, pension plans and health benefits require lots of sweat equity on the part of these higher paid employees. What I don’t support is letting children from lower income homes suffer through no fault of their own.
Families will now be eligible to receive a lifetime limit of $140,000 per child until the age of 18. Since most would agree that autistic children benefit most from therapy at a young age, the funds will be front-loaded. This means the annual limit is 20,000 for children aged two to six, and $5000 per year for those seven to eighteen. Regardless, available funding will cover only a portion of the costly therapy sessions required for autistic children.
No, funding for autistic children has not been reduced , but has been spread out, taken from the rich to help the poor. The PC government is trying to improve an increasingly essential program, geared to helping our youth. In fact, the current provincial government is also planning to double the (unchanged) $2.75 million annual investment in autism diagnostic hubs throughout the province.
The winner is………… not the Liberal or PC government, but more kids that suffer from autism.