The push to require health-insurance plans in Ohio to cover autism-related expenses is not a new one at the Statehouse, but it has never had backing like this.
A trio of GOP legislators — a former corporate CEO, a conservative business attorney and a member of the House Republican leadership team — are leading the charge to expand the state’s 2006 mental-health parity act to include coverage for autism-spectrum disorders. New, identical bills in the House and Senate are co-sponsored by more than 20 other Republicans — whose party has majorities in both houses — along with some Democrats.
“I know what it’s like to have to sign the front of a paycheck,” said Rep. Louis Terhar, R-Cincinnati, a veteran businessman. “I understand the argument about pressures on businesses, particularly small businesses.”
Requiring insurance coverage for autism disorders is not new: Thirty-two states, including every other Midwestern state, do it. Lorri Unumb, an attorney and state-government-affairs advocate for Autism Speaks, said the average cost per employee in those states is 31 cents a month.
“You have to realize there is also an element of corporate social responsibility to all of this,” said Terhar, who is a joint sponsor of the House bill with Rep. Cheryl Grossman, R-Grove City, the chamber’s assistant majority whip. “This is a problem that cries out for a reasoned economic solution.”
Jamie Richardson, a vice president at White Castle, said the company started offering autism coverage for 5,000 full-time employees in 2009. Of the company’s total health-care costs, he said, the autism coverage totaled less than 0.2 percent.
“We looked at this as a case of the right thing to do,” he said. “We went in thinking our costs would be much higher than they actually are.”
[Senate sponsor Bill] Seitz, a business lawyer, said he was sold when he learned that the state is spending more than $250 million a year on special-education services for autism, but studies, including one from UCLA, show that 47 percent of autistic students who get special therapy and services through kindergarten can be placed in regular classrooms.
“We can actually save money for all the taxpayers of this state,” he said.