Health agency cuts would negatively impact Florida children with autism

Slashing money for programs that help children with autism, families and therapists in Southwest Florida worry about a new state proposal. One Fort Myers father is concerned about his daughter, who depends on these services.

Roy Snell’s 5-year-old daughter, Lakin, has autism, and she receives therapy that is essential for successful communication later in her life.

“She is so special,” Snell said. “She has her own unique message and her own method of delivering that message.”

Lakin receives speech therapy at FOCUS in Fort Myers.

“I’ve seen changes in her that I don’t think I would’ve seen otherwise,” Snell said. “The therapies are essential.”

Jennifer Voltz, FOCUS owner and founder, is passionate toward her company mission, which is dedicated to breeding success in children growing up with autism.

“These kids need this service,” Voltz said. “And if not, it’s only going to cost the state more money in the long run.”

Earlier this year, Agency For Health Care Administration considered cutting reimbursements to organizations like FOCUS by more than half.

“I felt like it’s just been one thing after the next with the AHCA,” Voltz said.

However, Mary Mayhew, who is Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pick to lead the AHCA, is holding off on those changes.

“We are not going forward with the rate reductions at this time,” Mayhew said.

Mayhew plans on working this summer and fall to figure out how to move forward with those payments.

Without that money coming in, Voltz said it would be harder to serve several hundred families like Snell’s.

“This is money well spent now,” Voltz said. “And we have to find a way to keep it in the budget as is.”

That is just one reason Voltz and Snell will watch Mayhew’s actions, as she assumes her leadership role with the AHCA.

“Everything always starts with awareness,” Snell said.

That’s a message Snell hopes other families are willing to send to leaders during this Autism Awareness Month.

The AHCA is holding a series of public meetings, where people can voice their concerns on this issue. The next meeting is in Orlando.

For more information and a full list of public meetings related to these concerns, visit the AHCA website.

Reporter:Channing Frampton
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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