What mechanisms can an LEA use to fund assistive technology for students?
An LEA can acquire assistive technology in a variety of ways:
Local, State, and Federal Funds
An LEA may decide to purchase assistive technology by using local or state funds, state education funds, or federal funds provided for special education and related services under IDEA, if these funds are available. It is important to note that local, state, and federal sources do not earmark funds for the purpose of providing AT for students who need it. The LEA’s responsibility to provide AT should not be interpreted to mean that LEAs have funding ready for this purpose at all times. It is, therefore, important that IEP teams keep the LEA’s representatives on the team informed about the team’s progress in AT decision making.
Private Health Insurance Private insurance companies represent a major source of funding for AT that meets a “medical need.” If a student is covered by private insurance, the LEA can ask the family to pursue funding of an AT device through the insurance company, if the use of the insurance does not result in any cost to the family. The LEA cannot require the parents to use their health insurance to fund an AT device or make it a condition for the receipt of educational services.
Note that many vendors/manufacturers of AT will guide team members through the funding process. Representatives of funding departments can provide funding documents to help team members and families comply with insurance company requirements. Pursuing the option of insurance funding typically requires the services of the IEP team’s Speech/Language Pathologist to complete a report that provides data on device trails, and attests to the medical necessity of the device.
Medical Assistance (Medicaid) Students who are determined to be eligible under Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance (MA) Program can receive certain AT devices. In order for an AT device to be covered by Medicaid, the student who needs the device must be enrolled in MA, and the device must be an item that is prescribed by a physician and documented as “medically necessary.” If a student has both private insurance and Medicaid, the family must apply to its private insurance and be denied before applying to Medicaid. Medicaid will pay the costs of covered items that are not provided by insurance. The LEA cannot require families to file claims for MA services.
School-Based ACCESS Program (SBAP) If an eligible LEA is enrolled as a Medical Assistance (MA) provider in the School-Based ACCESS Program (SBAP), the LEA may be able to bill Medicaid to obtain partial reimbursement for an AT device. The following criteria must be met:
The student must receive special education services and be a Medical Assistance beneficiary.
Signed parental consent is required, along with medical authorization.
If the LEA does not bill the AT device to Medicaid, the LEA may use SBAP reimbursement monies to buy the device. In this case, the LEA retains ownership of the device. (Link to SBAP info)
Other Funding and Acquisition Sources
Recycling Centers The newest or latest technology may not be necessary for a student with a disability to complete tasks effectively. Organizations that operate “reuse” or “redistribution” centers can be a source for previously-owned devices at no or low cost. Some organizations, such as the Recycled Equipment Exchange Program (REEP), maintain databases of individuals who are interested in selling or donating recycled technology.
Rental Programs Many manufacturers of assistive technology will rent AT equipment. Devices may be rented for assessments, to accommodate short-term disabilities, to help gain insurance approvals for funding, and to provide technology for individuals whose own devices are being repaired.
Low-Interest Loan Programs The Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF) provides financing opportunities to individuals with disabilities to help them acquire AT. Individuals may apply for low-interest loans from the foundation. The foundation also provides information about other acquisition sources.
The information above is available as a PaTTAN publication entitled Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities: A Closer Look at Acquisition and Funding