Cigna's health services division, Evernorth, and Behavioral Health Center of Excellence are collaborating to develop treatment standards to ensure patients with autism receive services that meet clear quality and efficacy metrics.
The organizations will work together to improve access to autism treatment, advance patient-centered and value-based care using patient and provider input, increase transparency surrounding care quality and incentivize more providers to deliver high-quality services to people with autism.
Around one in 44 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and the rate has been steadily increasing over the past decade, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in 2021.
Behavioral Health Center of Excellence is an international accrediting body that creates and measures foundational practices for services organizations using applied behavior analysis to treat individuals with autism and other developmental disorders.
Applied behavior analysis therapy aims to help those with autism improve their social abilities, complete tasks, communicate and learn new skills.
Common performance metrics are lacking among applied behavior analysis providers. Evernorth and Behavioral Health Center of Excellence plan to establish standards to help patients, caregivers, providers and health plans better assess behavioral health outcomes and care quality.
"The collaboration of our two organizations marks a critical turning point toward a future where evidence and quality-based measures demonstrate the beneficial outcomes of ABA services and expand access by aligning care with value-driven reimbursement systems," Sara Litvak, CEO of Behavioral Health Center of Excellence, said in a news release.
Behavioral health clients at Evernorth and Cigna health plan customers will be some of the first to experience the joint standard performance metrics, the organizations said.
During the pandemic, many families experienced longer delays in diagnosing and treating individuals with autism. More than three-fourths of children with autism have access to treatment, but only 30% of those receive behavioral health therapy from a caregiver, the CDC found.
To address caregivers' need for training, Brightline, a telebehavioral health company, is launching a virtual program to coach caregivers of children between 18 months and 6 years old who have been diagnosed with or are at risk of autism spectrum disorder.
The program, Getting an Early Start on Autism, will include one-on-one virtual sessions with trained behavioral health coaches to help caregivers and their children address common challenges associated with autism, the company said Tuesday.
This method of intervention also allows families to address other comorbidities, symptoms and behaviors associated with autism, using supplementary exercises, content resources and various coaching and therapy offerings, Brightline said.
"Accessing competent and helpful autism spectrum disorder professionals can be time and money intensive, prolonging the gap between diagnosis and intervention," Thea Shukaliak-Neufeld, occupational therapist with Brightline, said in a news release.
Brightline recently raised $105 million in a Series C funding round and has expanded its clinical services to serve employers and 24 million health plan members across all 50 states.