The Effect of Medicaid Waivers on Ameliorating Racial/Ethnic Disparities Among Children With Autism

Published in: Health Services Research (2019). doi: 10.1111/1475-6773.13176

Posted on on May 29, 2019

by Michelle LaClair, David Mandell, Andrew W. Dick, Khaled Iskandarani, Bradley D. Stein, Douglas L. Leslie

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To examine the effects of Medicaid Home and Community-based Services (HCBS) waivers on reducing racial/ethnic disparities in unmet need for services among families of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Data Sources

Data from the 2003, 2007, and 2011 waves of the National Survey of Children's Health and the 2005 and 2010 waves of the National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs were used. Data on waiver characteristics were collected from source materials that were submitted in support of each state's waiver application. Waiver characteristics were combined to create a single waiver generosity variable.

Study Design

Quasi-difference-in-difference-in-difference models were used to determine the effect of waiver generosity on racial/ethnic disparities in unmet need among children with ASD.

Principal Findings

Increased waiver generosity was associated with significantly reduced odds of having unmet need for black children with ASD compared with white children with ASD. Unmet needs among black children with ASD were roughly cut in half, a 13 percentage point decrease, with the implementation of an average generosity waiver. No significant differences were seen for Hispanic ethnicity.


These findings suggest that Medicaid HCBS waivers have the potential to ameliorate disparities in unmet need among children with ASD. Future policy development should focus on replicating the most effective characteristics of these waivers.

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