Lengthy Processing Times Lead To Roadblocks For SoonerCare Families In Need Of Pediatric Speech Therapy

Thursday, December 16th 2021, 4:45 pm

SoonerCare families who take their child to speech therapy are hitting roadblocks as processing delays lead to kids going months without the necessary treatments. 

Now, those families hang in the balance while they wait to get approved for speech therapy.

The approval process used to take three weeks at most. Now, parents have to wait closer to three months to find out if they are approved for the care. If they wait that long and get denied, the process starts all over again.

"Could you imagine your kid having something wrong with them and they're crying, and you're just having to play a guessing game and got to go down 30 things of a list and it could be something just as simple as she wanted the water on the sink," said Sarah Cramp.

Cramp is one of hundreds of parents in a state of limbo while she waits for SoonerCare to approve her daughter's speech therapy sessions. Her daughter has been in speech therapy since she was 3 years old. She's now 7. It's been about two months since the last session.

"I don't know what to do because I'm not a speech pathologist," said Cramp. 

"That continuity is important, and so you have to make up for that might take another three or four months to make up for the three months that you lost," said Emily Hathaway, owner and clinical director of Speech Pathway.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority requires parents to get a doctor's referral and then get children evaluated annually.

"For a total, so once we ask for an evaluation and by the time they get treatment, it could be a total of five months waiting," said Fundamentals Therapy speech pathologist Kendall Flynn. 

"I was told last time that there were 2,300 speech therapy authorizations waiting to be reviewed and that they get between 50 and 100 every single day," Hathaway said.

In a response, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority released this statement to News 9:

“We appreciate News 9 sharing these concerns with OHCA. We are aware of the backlog caused by increased utilization and have already made positive progress towards resolving this issue. We are also in the process of engaging additional speech therapists to aid in expediting the treatment plan approval process.”

Those delays also make it difficult for practices to bring in more speech pathologists.

"That's making it very difficult when you can't guarantee pay or a job sometimes because of delays," said April Bryant, owner of Fundamentals Therapy. 

"We've hired three additional administrative staff just this year to assist with insurance authorizations which is almost all SoonerCare," Hathaway said.

Providers also said they expect more kids to need speech therapy, as many kids born right before or during the pandemic may not have had much time socializing outside of the home.