Autism Biomarkers Could Save Billions in Healthcare Costs

April 22, 2021
MHE Staff

The use of accurate biomarkers for detecting autism spectrum disorder could result in saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs, according to a paper recently published in the journal Autism Research.

The use of accurate biomarkers for detecting autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could result in saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs, according to a paper recently published in the journal Autism Research.

The paper titled, "Evidence–based Use of Scalable Biomarkers to Increase Diagnostic Efficiency and Decrease the Lifetime Costs of Autism," showed if more children with ASD are identified early and referred for early intervention services, government supported healthcare and educational systems would realize substantial cost savings of more than $30 billion/year.

The study looked at two recently researched and published biomarker technologies, a molecular saliva test and a remote eye gaze tracking technology. The research study was a collaborative effort with several leading autism researchers and clinicians, including Autism Speaks' Chief Science Officer and John Carroll University Professor Thomas Frazier PhD, ECHO Autism founder and University of Missouri School of Medicine Professor Kristin Sohl MD, and The Ohio State University College of Medicine Professor Daniel Coury MD.

Approximately 1 in 54 American children are currently diagnosed with ASD, a 10-fold increase in prevalence over the past 40 years. Unfortunately, this high rate of autism in the U.S., when combined with a relatively small number of specialists trained to make the diagnosis, has resulted in long wait times for families to receive an autism evaluation. Consequently, while diagnosis is possible in children as young as 18 months, the average age of ASD diagnosis in the United States today often exceeds 4 years of age. Early diagnosis is important because intensive behavioral therapy has been shown to improve the symptoms of autism, and children benefit more from such intervention the earlier it is started.

The researchers in this study sought to assess the financial impact of initiating appropriate interventions faster and reducing the number of unnecessary diagnostic evaluations, through the adoption of accurate biomarkers. The study focused on two recently researched and published biomarker technologies: a molecular saliva test and a remote eye gazing tracking technology. These particular biomarker tests were selected because of their scalability and ease of implementation.

The study estimated lifetime societal cost savings in special education, medical and residential care, to be nearly $580,000 per ASD child, with annual cost savings in education exceeding $13.3 billion, and annual cost savings in medical and residential care exceeding $23.8 billion (of these, nearly $11.2 billion are attributable to Medicaid). These savings total more than $37 billion/year in societal savings in the US.

"This study shows how implementing an accurate diagnostic measure to high risk cases initially flagged from screening tools, can further inform clinical judgment and substantially improve early identification," said Dr. Thomas Frazier, one of the principal authors on the paper. "Our findings demonstrate the positive clinical and financial influences that implementing measures that inform ASD diagnosis can have, reinforcing the need to continue development of accurate, scalable biomarkers for ASD, such as these molecular and eye-tracking technologies."