Ottawa

CHEO's new autism therapy fees too expensive, says parent

Some Ottawa parents of children with autism say they won't be purchasing therapy from the eastern Ontario's children's hospital because it's too expensive.

Therapy program changes mean children's hospital forced to come up with fee structure

For the first time, CHEO has now had to develop a fee schedule for clinical autism therapies. Not all parents say that's a good idea. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Some Ottawa parents of children with autism say they won't be purchasing therapy from the eastern Ontario's children's hospital because it's too expensive.

Under the new Ontario autism program, which came into effect April 1, families will now receive a yearly amount directly from the province to purchase services they believe benefit their child.   

In exchange, the province says it will eliminate the wait list for autism treatment, which now stands at 23,000 children. 

That means for the first time, CHEO has now had to develop a fee schedule for clinical autism therapies. 

Their services include a four-day-a-week program that helps children achieve personalized language goals and reduce problematic behaviours — at a weekly cost of $1,900. 

The government is providing $20,000 per year for children under age six and $5,000 a year for children six to 18. 

Mike Moffatt says allowing CHEO, a publicly-funded hospital, to set fee-for-service on autism therapies sets a poor precedent. (Supplied)

But Mike Moffatt, the father of two children on the autism spectrum, says the annual costs for treating his four-year-old son amount to about $80,000.

His family has been paying a private therapist because his son has been on the wait list for two years. 

Moffatt said he won't be using CHEO's autism therapy services because the hospital's average hourly costs are $30 more than at a private practice.  

"I'm puzzled why it's so expensive," said Moffatt. 

"You go to a hospital and you display your OHIP card, not your American Express." 

In an April 24 letter, CHEO president and CEO Alex Munter acknowledged that many parents were feeling uneasy.

"We are not trying to make money. This is about covering our costs so we can maintain these crucial services," Munter said. 

"Charging for services raises clinical, ethical and financial issues."

CHEO has published a price list for its spring and summer autism services, in the wake of provincial changes -- and parents say they just can't afford the steep costs. We'll put those concerns to the head of the hospital. 7:35

Munter said he will be consulting the community about the fees.

"We've never done this before. So we'll probably make some mistakes," he said. "We ask for your patience as we learn to work in this new way."  

Provincial money won't be enough

For Moffatt, when it comes to a hospital posting a price list for health services, there are certainly ethical issues.

"This could start a poor precedent of more and more health services that could get privatized," he said.

"Why are public hospitals that are paid for with tax dollars now competing with private providers and charging so much more?"

Like Moffatt, Mick Kitor also won't be switching to CHEO for his son's therapy because of the cost.

Kitor has been paying for private therapy for his 11-year-old son for five years. He says the money from the provincial government will only pay a quarter of his son's costs. 

Even the $20,000 for parents with children six or under won't be enough, Kitor said.

"[It] doesn't even cover the therapy that they need, so you're already going into the hole on that," Kitor said. "If you're looking at 80 dollars an hour, 40 hours a week, you blow through that $20,000 pretty quick."

He said the government is trying to hide a dramatic cut to the autism program by letting families choose how to spend the money.

CHEO has planned public information sessions on May 2 and May 7 at 1002 Beaverbrook Rd. and 2280 St. Laurent Blvd.

Both sessions begin at 6 p.m.

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