Friday, March 27, 2015

Ava's Law Redux

Douglas Richards reports at WXIA on a reversal by the state lawmaker who had been blocking Ava's Law:
State Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) tells 11Alive News that he has agreed to attach the language of Ava's Law to another bill that has already passed the House. The compromise was announced Thursday at the Georgia Capitol.

Ava's Law, which is named after a 9-year-old Ava Bullard of Toombs County, would require insurance coverage for children with autism in Georgia. The bill has been bottled up in the House for seven years in part because of Smith's opposition.

"I'm excited we have a solution," said Smith, who expressed frustration on the House floor Wednesday over the "flack" he'd been getting for his position against Ava's Law.

Smith, chairman of the House insurance committee, had been the biggest obstacle to the passage of the autism bill. Ava's Law, named for 10 year old Ava Bullard, would require insurance companies to cover treatment for children with autism. Smith viewed it as a burden on small businesses. Ava's mother lobbied hard for the bill for seven years—and learned early Thursday afternoon that Smith had agreed to a compromise.
"I can't take it. It's unreal. It's unreal. It's been seven years," Bullard said grinning in a capitol hallway, shortly before hugging Smith.
"I'm not that ogre everybody thinks I am. I have compassion for these people," Smith said at the announcement.
Smith agreed the compromise after the state senate stopped considering bills backed by Smith and members of his insurance committee – a strongarm tactic that Smith acknowledges happens every year in the legislature. Ava Bullard, who spent the day at school in south Georgia, found out about the compromise in a Facetime phone call with her mother in an office in the capitol.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Autism Speaks on Vaccines

At Left Brain, Right Brain, Matt Carey notices an addition to Autism Speaks's recent endorsement of vaccines:
The above statement by Mr. Ring was picked up by the press in February as it was so clear.
Next, Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks:
Over the last two decades extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines. Vaccines are very important. Parents must make the decision whether to vaccinate their children. Efforts must be continually made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools.
Bob Wright
Co-founder, Autism Speaks
It’s a fairly stilted paragraph in my read. It comes across as though Mr. Wright is trying to appear to ride the fence while at the same time pulling back dramatically from the clear statement by Mr. Ring. Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stalling in Georgia

Andy Miller of Georgia Health News reports that Ava's Law is stalling in the state's House Insurance Committee.  A hearing resulted in no vote:
Anna Bullard, of Lyons, told the panel how ABA therapy improved life for her daughter, Ava. At age 2, the girl did not talk.
The Bullards’ insurance policy did not cover ABA, but the family paid for her to get it. Now, Ava “is at the top of her class’’ in a regular education curriculum, Bullard said.
“Ava is an example of the potential,’’ Bullard said. “Having a child, the most important thing is that they can speak.”
State Sen. Tommie Williams. R-Lyons, who is related to Ava, told the House lawmakers that their role “is to determine what makes good policy.”
As an employer, Williams said, “I’m not just looking for the best price [on health insurance]. I’m looking for the best policy.’’
Their testimony was countered by business and insurance groups.
Kyle Jackson of the National Federation of Independent Business said his small business members are very concerned about the rising costs of health insurance.
If the autism bill passes, he said, “I’m not going to say the sky is going to fall . . . but there is a cost to this.”
Jackson’s testimony was supported by David Raynor, of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. And Graham Thompson of the Georgia Association of Health Plans said “there will be an impact’’ if the bill is approved.
ABA is not considered “an essential health benefit’’ under the Affordable Care Act, he added.
Allan Hayes of America’s Health Insurance Plans testified that “ABA therapy is not a cure’’ for autism. Insurance mandates increase costs for employers, Hayes said.
Aaron Gould Sheinin reports at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The chairman of the House Insurance Committee said Wednesday that he will not allow a bill to pass this year that would mandate insurance coverage for treatment of autism for a limited number of Georgians.Instead, Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, said he will introduce legislation later this week that would let voters decide whether to levy a new fractional state sales tax to provide treatment for all children with autism-related disorders.
Smith said Senate Bill 1 “is bad policy.” He said the bill would only provide coverage for 15 out of every 100 children with the disorder.
“What are you going to do with the other 85?” he asked. “How are you going to explain that to mom and dad, they’re not going to get treatment? It’s wrong. I will not pass that bill out of insurance.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Graduation Rates

The graduation rate for students with disabilities has risen from 59 percent in 2010-11, to 61 percent in 2011-12, to the most recent statistics of 61.9 percent in 2012-13. That's 2.9 percentage points of growth over the time span. The student population as a whole has also shown improvement in graduation over that time, but the growth rate was just a hair slower: from 79 percent, to 80 percent, to 81.4 percent over the same three school years. That's 2.4 percentage points of growth.

A couple of caveats with these statistics: under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students with disabilities are allowed to stay in school at least until age 21, or longer if state laws allow it (Michigan, for example, allows students to remain in public school until age 26.) So a 4-year graduation rate measure may not capture all students with disabilities who ultimately leave school with a "regular high school diploma," as the measure is intended to capture.
Also, states may have different definitions for what a "regular high school diploma" is for a students with a disability. For example, check out the difference between Kentucky and Arkansas policies, as explained in a 2013 document on promoting higher graduation rates in special education that was jointly published by the education reform organization Achieve the National Center for Educational Outcomes...disabilities_graduation_rate.jpg

Monday, March 23, 2015

Substandard Vaccination and the 2015 Measles Outbreak

At JAMA Pediatrics, Maimuna S. Majumder and colleagues find that the MMR vaccination rate among the exposed population was 50-86 percent, way below the 96-99 percent for herd immunity.

The abstract:
The ongoing measles outbreak linked to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, shines a glaring spotlight on our nation’s growing antivaccination movement and the prevalence of vaccination-hesitant parents. Although the index case has not yet been identified, the outbreak likely started sometime between December 17 and 20, 2014.1,2 Rapid growth of cases across the United States indicates that a substantial percentage of the exposed population may be susceptible to infection due to lack of, or incomplete, vaccination. Herein, we attempt to analyze existing, publicly available outbreak data to assess the potential role of suboptimal vaccination coverage in the population.
Erin Allday reports at The San Francisco Chronicle:
Two years ago, Marin County conducted a survey asking parents why they decided not to vaccinate. Parents cited concerns about their children getting too many shots over too short a period of time as their primary worry, followed by doubts about the safety of newer vaccines. They said they were “unsure” whether vaccines could cause autism — a claim, long debunked, that’s held firm since a single study noting a possible ink was published in the 1990s.

That one study often is blamed for much if not all of the vaccine resistance still reported in the United States. But Sharon Kaufman, a UCSF medical anthropologist, said the issue also is tied deeply to major cultural and societal shifts that have happened over the past two decades.

Americans are much less trustful of government and major corporations, especially so-called Big Pharma, than they once were. Parents have seen medical science shift and change course over time — solid facts about diet and nutrition change from year to year, and drugs once deemed safe are pulled from the market.

Plus, in a break from past practice, patients are now encouraged to take responsibility for their own health and work with their doctor in a partnership, not taking advice blindly and without question.

Skeptical parents are practicing the strong, practical values of our society today. This is one of the great ironies,” Kaufman said. “They’re aware of market-driven Big Pharma, they’re aware that scientific truths are unsettled. This is the land they dwell in, in which they have to make decisions.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Falling Through the Cracks

In Ellensburg, Washington, The Daily Record reports on autism mom Michelle Williams and the transition to adulthood:
Williams said after her son Gerik graduates from Kittitas High School at age 21, whether he lives at home or in his own apartment, he will need 24-hour care. He will receive assistance from the state Developmental Disabilities Administration, or DDA, which is part of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The DDA will work with Gerik and his parents on his job, personal and housing supports for when he graduates.

The public school system supports autistic and other special needs adults through age 21. DDA service for adults doesn’t start until age 21. If an autistic adult leaves school before age 21, it creates a gap in service leaving families and caregivers to handle things on their own, Williams said.

“We are lucky Gerik is a DDA client,” Williams wrote. “There are some supports, although limited, available through DDA to help him in his future. I worry about people who are not eligible for DDA. These people fall through the cracks.”

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Virginia Moves on ABLE Accounts

Michelle Diament reports at Disability Scoop:
Virginia became the first state to approve legislation related to the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act, when Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill this week allowing for the new savings vehicle.
Under federal law, the ABLE Act allows people with disabilities to open special accounts where they can save up to $100,000 without risking eligibility for Social Security and other government programs. However, states must put regulations in place before financial institutions can begin offering the accounts.
In addition to Virginia, legislatures in West Virginia and Utah have sent ABLE bills to their governors. What’s more, legislation is under consideration in 29 other states and draft bills are in the works in another seven, according to Heather Sachs, director of state government affairs for the National Down Syndrome Society