Since changes made by Premier Kathleen Wynne in 2016, children diagnosed with Autism have had to face long wait lists for government-supported therapy. Those wait lists were originally to be between three-to-six months. In many cases these have now expanded to three-plus years, with no end in sight. The system is essentially broken.
Last week, minister of children, community and social services Lisa MacLeod announced the Ford government’s plan to reform the system. This plan increases funding to hospitals for testing and diagnosis, which is a much needed improvement. MacLeod’s plan will also change service delivery for those needing therapy. In a bid to cut wait times the government will give families the funds directly. Families will receive approximately $5,000 per year to seek treatment for kids age 7 and older, more per year if they are younger. Yes, this move will effectively end government wait lists for service delivery: it will simply not provide the service at all. The problem with the government’s plan is that the costs for the standard therapy for Autism, Applied Behavioural Analysis, can run between $30,000 and $60,000 per year. Under this plan, the remainder of the expenses will be paid by families, many of whom are simply unable to afford these charges.
This plan does not take into account that the private-sector providers already have long wait lists, which will now grow even longer.
The benefits of ABA therapy are undeniable. Children learn to be able to cope, adapt, if not thrive, in school, at home, and in life. Autism is not a disease, but a neurological condition. There is no cure. MacLeod’s plan does not address what the need was. It has only taken a broken system and scrapped it. It also sets a disturbing precedence.
Providing a yearly payment, and telling families to go deal with their issues themselves violates the very spirit of the Canadian health care system. It is a slippery slope to travel down. What will be the next issue to face this same government “fix”? Issues like bipolar disorder? Heart disease or cancer treatment? Give patients a payment and tell them to go heal themselves. That sounds like the American medical system.
There is no doubt that the system, as it was, was broken. All the Ford government has done is take that broken system, and made it worse. The government needs to go back to the drawing board.