Monday, October 20, 2008
The Washington Post reports that parents and an advocacy group, Autism speaks, are encouraging the passing of laws requiring health insurers to cover intensive and costly behavior therapy for autism. Carla K. Johnson writes,
In Washington state, Reza and Arzu Forough pay more than $1,000 a week for behavior therapy for their 12-year-old autistic son.
In Indiana, Sean and Michele Trivedi get the same type of therapy for their 11-year-old daughter. But they pay $3,000 a year and their health insurance covers the rest.
Two families. Two states. Big difference in out-of-pocket costs.
If autism advocates get their way, more states will follow Indiana's lead by requiring health insurers to cover intensive and costly behavior therapy for autism.
In the past two years, six states, Texas, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, passed laws requiring such coverage, costing in some cases up to $50,000 a year per child.
The powerful advocacy group Autism Speaks has endorsed bills in New Jersey, Virginia and Michigan and is targeting at least 10 more states in 2009, including New York, California and Ohio.
Other states, including Illinois, have similar bills in the works but aren't working directly with Autism Speaks.
"This is the hottest trend in mandates we've seen in a long time," said J.P. Wieske, a lobbyist for an insurance coalition that argues that these state requirements drive up insurance costs for everyone. "It is hard to fight them."
For lawmakers, voting against these measures means voting against parents who are struggling to do the best for their children.
Parents tell moving stories about how behavior therapy works better than anything they've tried. In two states, bills got nicknames like "Steven's Law" and "Ryan's Law," so voting against them was tough.
Arzu Forough of Kirkland, Wash., who is pushing a bill in her state, credits behavior therapy for teaching her son Shayan, at age 3, to make a sound to ask for a drink of water. Now 12, he is learning to converse about his favorite food and music, and to talk about his frustrations rather than throw tantrums.
Trained therapists, using principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA), created a system of rewards to teach Shayan these skills. As a preschooler, he got a piece of cheese when he said "bubba" for water. Now a therapist rewards him with tokens when he responds in conversation. He uses the tokens to "buy" privileges like going for a car ride.