Author Archives: nebraska


New, tax-deductible savings plan for families of children with disabilities will launch this month

LINCOLN — When her 2-year-old son was diagnosed with severe autism, one of Cathy Martinez’s first thoughts was who would care for Jacob when she and her husband are gone.

Soon, she said, she will get some help with that dilemma.

On June 30, the Nebraska Treasurer’s Office will launch a new, tax-deductible savings plan for families of children with disabilities.

The Enable Savings Plan is one of the first established in the country. It will allow families to set aside funds in a tax-free savings account for the future care of a loved one without jeopardizing that person’s Medicaid and Social Security benefits.

By federal law, if a person had more than $2,000 in assets, they would lose such benefits, Martinez said, forcing disabled adults into poverty so they could continue to qualify for services.

Her family was forced into bankruptcy after spending $300,000 of their own money for the initial care for Jacob, now 13. In 1994, state law was changed to require insurance coverage of autism services.

Martinez and other advocates said Wednesday that the Enable Savings Plan will allow families the opportunity to set aside funds — without risking penalties — for the future care of their children or to allow them to get educations or buy or rent homes.

“This is all about greater independence,” said Brandon Verzal of Lincoln, whose daughter was the victim of shaken baby syndrome at a day care center when the family lived in Texas.

Martinez said Jacob is nonverbal and probably won’t be able to work as an adult. But the savings in his account could pay for life in a group home or with one of his siblings, she said.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, State Treasurer Don Stenberg urged Nebraskans to spread the word about the Enable program, which is similar to savings plans already offered to cover college expenses.

State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln sponsored the 2015 bill that authorized the program.

Under the terms of the program, if the state of residence pays for an account owner’s medical costs incurred after an account is opened, the state will receive reimbursement of the balance of an account upon the account owner’s death.

For more information, call the Treasurer’s Office at 402-471-2455 or visit the


NE announces start of enable accounts

Nebraska announces start of Enable accounts

Cathy Martinez said her family spent more than $300,000 out of pocket over a four-year period on treatments and services for her severely autistic son, and she worried that the financial resources available to him in adulthood, such as Medicaid and Social Security disability payments, wouldn’t come close to covering his living and care expenses.

Brandon Verzal, whose daughter sustained a traumatic brain injury at the hands of a daycare provider when she was 14 months old, said, “I don’t think there’s anything I lose more sleep over,” than imagining what will happen to his daughter when shes 20 or 30 or 40 years old.”

Martinez and Verzal both will have another option by the end of the month.

Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg announced Wednesday that the state’s first Enable Savings Plan will be available June 30.

The Legislature last year passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience law, which authorized the accounts to allow children and adults with qualifying disabilities in Nebraska to save and invest money without jeopardizing their eligibility for government benefits. Federal legislation in 2014 paved the way for such accounts.

Up until now, adults with disabilities receiving government benefits could have no more than $2,000 in a savings account.

The Enable accounts are similar to 529 accounts for education savings. Money is contributed on an after-tax basis and then grows tax free. Distributions are tax free as long as they are used for qualifying expenses.

Participants can save as much as $100,000 without losing eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

First National Bank of Nebraska is the program manager for the accounts, and David Cota, an executive vice president at the bank, said it has had considerable interest in the accounts, not just in Nebraska but nationally.

“We believe signups are going to be meaningful and significant,” Cota said.

Nebraska is the third state, after Ohio and Tennessee, to offer the accounts.

To learn more about Enable accounts, go to:


Nebraska Medicaid receives federal approval to cover treatment for children with autism

LINCOLN — The final piece has fallen into place for Nebraska Medicaid to cover an intensive but effective type of treatment for Nebraska children with autism.

Courtney Phillips, chief executive officer of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, announced Monday that the state has gotten federal approval for coverage of applied behavioral analysis and other behavioral modification services.

“This is good news,” she said. “Having access to these services will help many of the children we serve through the Medicaid program lead more fulfilling lives.”

The approval was received March 30 and is effective retroactively to Oct. 1, when the state started offering the coverage.

Services approved for coverage include day treatment, community treatment aides and outpatient therapy. Treatment models approved for coverage include cognitive behavioral therapy, comprehensive behavioral intervention and applied behavioral analysis for children.

Applied behavioral analysis uses positive reinforcement and other techniques to change behavior. It can eliminate symptoms of autism for some children and dramatically reduce the symptoms in others. But depending on a child’s needs, it can be very intensive and expensive.

“We heard from families and advocates that these services are very important,” said Calder Lynch, director of the state’s HHS Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care. “This is a great addition to the Nebraska Medicaid program.”

Previously, Nebraska Medicaid barred coverage of behavioral modification services, including applied behavioral analysis. The program also prohibited coverage of mental health treatments when aimed at treating developmental disabilities.

State officials long resisted efforts to add the coverage, citing concern about potential costs.

But they reversed course after a judge ruled against the state in a class-action lawsuit filed in the name of two boys, identified as K.D. and S.L.

Lancaster County District Judge John Colborn found that the prohibitions violated federal law and ordered the state to start paying for applied behavioral analysis and similar treatments if recommended by medical professionals.

State officials cited other factors as well in their decision to start coverage. Among them was a directive from the federal government and changes in what professionals consider best practices in autism treatment.


National LIDS Campaign to Benefit Autism Society

College and pro team apparel retailer LIDS® is supporting the Autism Society of America and its affiliates across LIDS’ 900+ US retail stores.  During April, in honor of Autism Awareness Month, customers will have the ability to make donations in any amount via in-store collection containers at checkout, or add a donation to their credit card sale. Also, each Nebraska store can custom embroider your hat or shirt purchase, and a portion of your embroidery purchase is donated to the Autism Society!  There is even a custom, colorful puzzle piece for embroidery designed especially for Autism Awareness Month. All donations collected will be divided among the 104 Autism Society Affiliates to support local autism programs and services.

There are LIDS stores in Lincoln, Gretna & Omaha; the store finder is here . Buy your favorite college and pro team apparel and support the Autism Society by shopping your local LIDS store today!

Have this logo embroidered on any apparel purchase at LIDS this April and LIDS will donate $7 to the Autism Society in support of Autism Awareness Month. All proceeds will be distributed amongst the local Autism Society affiliates

CDC Announces Autism Prevalence Rates Remain the Same

2016 CDC Incidence Report

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the incidence of autism among eight year olds in the United States remains 1 out of 68 children. This CDC report occurs every two years.

We have three key messages about today’s report:

  • Each person with autism deserves a life full of dignity, value and respect. Their lives should allow them to pursue options that maximize their quality of life and value to society.
  • It is important to realize these statistics represent real people who contribute to society.
  • It is important to understand autism through research, but just as important to be there for the over 3 million Americans who live with autism today.

Additional information on this announcement can be found at: http://www.autism­­the­news/autism­prevalence­rates/

For more information on the Study methodology go to:


National Student Speech Language Hearing Association

The students of UNO’s National Student Speech Language Hearing Association are committed to helping families affected by autism.  For the second year, they are holding a fundraiser to benefit the Autism Society of Nebraska.  UNO’s Got Talent is coming up April 15th with talent performers, raffle prizes, food and more.

Donate to UNO NSSLHA’s fundraiser here


UNO's Got Talent

UNO’s Got Talent Show – Sign Up by April 1st!

Friday, April 15th 7 pm

UNO’s Got Talent
The University of Nebraska at Omaha chapter of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association is hosting the second annual UNO’s Got Talent!

Only UNO students can participate with a talent to earn cash prizes, but anyone can attend to watch and support a great cause! A free will donation (suggested $5) will be taken at the door for entrance, with an option to donate an extra suggested $1 for pizza and pop!

All proceeds from the event will go directly towards the Autism Society of Nebraska to benefit those families in Nebraska affected by autism. If you are unable to attend the event, please consider donating at the link provided. All donations are greatly appreciated!

Donate to ASN at