BACKGROUND: The health care costs associated with treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children can be substantial. State-level mandates that require insurers to cover ASD-specific services may lessen the financial burden families face by shifting health care spending to insurers.
METHODS: We estimated the effects of ASD mandates on out-of-pocket spending, insurer spending, and the share of total spending paid out of pocket for ASD-specific services. We used administrative claims data from 2008 to 2012 from 3 commercial insurers, and took a difference-in-differences approach in which children who were subject to mandates were compared with children who were not. Because mandates have heterogeneous effects based on the extent of children's service use, we performed subsample analyses by calculating quintiles based on average monthly total spending on ASD-specific services. The sample included 106 977 children with ASD across 50 states.
RESULTS: Mandates increased out-of-pocket spending but decreased the share of spending paid out of pocket for ASD-specific services on average. The effects were driven largely by children in the highest-spending quintile, who experienced an average increase of $35 per month in out-of-pocket spending (P < .001) and a 4 percentage point decline in the share of spending paid out of pocket (P < .001).
CONCLUSIONS: ASD mandates shifted health care spending for ASD-specific services from families to insurers. However, families in the highest-spending quintile still spent an average of >$200 per month out of pocket on these services. To help ease their financial burden, policies in which children with higher service use are targeted may be warranted.