Families testify in support of autism funding

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | 10:21 p.m. CST

 JEFFERSON CITY – More than a dozen parents of autistic children spoke before the Senate Small Business Committee on Tuesday to urge support of a measure that would require limited health care coverage for autism.

But one committee member argued the bill doesn't go far enough.

The bill would give families up to $72,000 per year to cover behavioral therapies for children with autism and requires that coverage continue until age 21.

Under the current bill, only about 40 percent of those with autistic children would be covered.  Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Lincoln, said those who work for small businesses would not qualify under the bill, which only mandates coverage of autism with certain types of insurance plans.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, questioned supporters about whether the bill goes far enough.

"We're going to feel good just by giving it to a few? I'm not subscribing to that," Crowell said. He asked if autism advocates were really satisfied with a bill that he said wouldn't provide coverage to even half of the existing population in need.

Two mothers wearing homemade shirts with ironed-on images of their autistic children said they came to testify in support of the bill even though they would not be covered under the bill. The two women said they would look for new jobs if it meant getting coverage for their children.  

Lorri Unumb, a senior policy adviser with Autism Speaks and mother of an autistic child, said she would vouch for any effort to cover autistic children under insurance.

"It's like this," Unumb said. "If there were 10 people in a sinking ship, and there were only three life jackets, would you hold onto the life jackets because you didn't have enough for all 10 people?"

Crowell later said: "What I'm saying is, if we're going to do this, let's do this. I don't want to dislocate my shoulder while trying to pat myself on the back. I don't want to play games with people when only a small sliver of them are actually getting what they want."

Many of those testifying were focused not on the 60 percent who would not be covered under the bill, but rather on the need for applied behavior bnalysis therapy, more popularly known as ABA, which is covered under the bill.

Jennifer Gray, a witness from Lee's Summit, said that ABA therapy  would have cost her family $100 an hour. Many of the families testifying said they had difficulty paying bills out of pocket, and a few were considering filing for bankruptcy.

The witnesses who testified stressed the importance of getting ABA therapy for their children in order to develop into productive, tax-paying citizens.

"It is my utmost hope that my child may get to pay taxes someday," Unumb said, choking back tears. 


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