INDIANAPOLIS - Music therapists studying at four Indiana universities and practicing throughout Indiana could see a business boost under a measure that state lawmakers advanced on Tuesday.
About 160 such therapists provide the kind of treatment in Indiana that helped rehabilitate former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was wounded in a 2010 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz.
Their patients include elderly Hoosiers suffering from Alzheimer's, children with autism and other developmental disabilities and more.
"It's a small, very specialized group of individuals," said state Rep. Suzanne Crouch, the Evansville Republican who authored House Bill 1051, which would launch a new state board to certify music therapists.
That bill cleared the chamber's Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee with unanimous support Tuesday, taking its first step toward becoming law. It now heads to the full House, and if it clears that hurdle, the Senate would need to approve the measure as well.
"It is an evidence-based practice, and it's something that has great outcomes for the clients we serve," said Casey DePriest, the owner of the Evansville-based Integrative Music Therapy and chair of a task force pushing for Crouch's measure.
A state certification, DePriest said, would help patients get their health insurance providers to cover a treatment that is already funded for some through Indiana's Medicaid waiver and other state programs.
It would also allow prosecutors to crack down on those who bill themselves as music therapists but have no training in health care under the state's consumer fraud laws.
States that have adopted similar certifications have seen an uptick in insurers willing to cover music therapy, DePriest said.
Mary Kay Bonner, a Celtic harpist who has worked in children's hospitals, retirement facilities and more in central Indiana, flipped through an album of photos of dozens of her patients.
"Our training allows us to prepare good analysis of the work that we do, and it also prepares us to develop quality programming and evaluation as we treat our people," Bonner said.
Four universities in Indiana – the University of Evansville, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, 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, said she works primarily with autistic children. She said an 8-year-old client's social skills have improved dramatically.
"I saw him come out of his shell in the music sessions," she said. "He was communicating with me more and needing Mom in the room less. Mom was reporting that things were going better in school and he wasn't having as hard of a time in school opening up to other kids."