Surfside Vice-Mayor raises awareness for proposed changes to behavior analysis services

NORTH MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Surfside Vice-Mayor Daniel Gielchinsky is attempting to bring awareness to major changes that may affect children with autism in Florida.

When Gielchinsky heard about some major changes the Agency for Health Care Administration planned to make to services many Florida children with autism depend on, he was floored.

“I’m trying to shine a spotlight on where there seems to be a very dark place,” Gielchinsky said. “I believe that most, if not all, of our 40 senators, perhaps except for the few I’ve contacted so far, did not know that this was coming and are first hearing about this now.”

On ACHA’s website, it said the agency is holding meetings to introduce proposed changes to Applied Behavior Analysis services covered under the Florida Medicaid program.

“Changes are being made to ensure children receive the right service, at the right time, and by the right provider,” the agency’s website states.

“What I’ve pieced together is the suspicion that ACHA is using this context of fraud as a ploy for something that was their real motivation,” Gielchinsky said. “Their real motivation was to cut costs and not provide ABA.”

Merceydes Morassi is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and said registered behavior technicians are looking at a 55% pay slash.

Under these changes, Morassi said registered behavior technicians, also known as RBTs, would essentially be driven out.

“Can you imagine going from $30 an hour to $12 an hour?” Morassi said. “This is not an easy job. I can work at Starbucks for $12 an hour and make a Mocha Frappuccino, but we are talking about dealing with a one-hour tantrum, having things thrown at your face, being bit, kicked, hit.”

When these changes start to take effect, Morassi said the trickle-down effects will do harm. The changes will affect those in the ABA field and kids like Nathan, who his family said has completely transformed since starting ABA therapy in 2018.

“The progression he’s made in the last year is more significant than he has [made] in the last five, 10 years,” Nathan’s father said.

“There’s 41,000 autistic kids who get services through Florida’s Medicaid system,” Gielchinsky said. “These are kids who really need ABA services.”

“I understand that they want to make changes,” Morassi said. “I get it, and there are parts of our business, ABA business, that should be changed, but these are drastic, and this isn’t going to help it. It’s going to hurt everybody, particularly the kids.”

Gielchinsky said he will continue to reach out to lawmakers and lobbyists to bring awareness to the issue.

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