Indiana lawmakers advance music therapist bill

A bill that would certify Indiana therapists who specialize in using music to treat people with autism, Alzheimer's and other conditions is advancing in the General Assembly.

The music therapy bill cleared the Indiana House's Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee last week with unanimous support. If it clears the full House, the Senate would need to approve it.

The bill, which was sponsored by state Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, would create a new state board to certify music therapists in Indiana.

"It's a small, very specialized group of individuals," she said.

The Evansville Courier & Press reported Monday that about 160 music therapists in Indiana provide the kind of treatment that helped rehabilitate former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was wounded in a 2010 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz. Among those they treat are people with Alzheimer's, and children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

"It is an evidence-based practice, and it's something that has great outcomes for the clients we serve," said Casey DePriest, owner of the Evansville-based Integrative Music Therapy.

DePriest, who chairs a task force pushing for Crouch's measure, said a state certification would help patients get their health insurance providers to cover a treatment that's already funded for some through Indiana's Medicaid waiver and other state programs.

Certification would also allow prosecutors to use the state's consumer fraud laws to prosecute people who bill themselves as music therapists but have no training in health care.

States that have adopted similar certifications have seen an increase in insurers willing to cover music therapy, DePriest said.

Four universities in Indiana — the University of Evansville, IUPUI, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College — have music therapy programs.

Kellie Schallert, a music therapy teaching assistant who is studying in IUPUI's master's program, works primarily with autistic children. She said the social skills of an 8-year-old client she's treating have improved dramatically.

She said the boy's mother said that since he began the therapy he's doing better in school and has been able to interact better with other children.

"I saw him come out of his shell in the music sessions," Schallert said. "He was communicating with me more and needing mom in the room less."

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