Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed the state employee health plan cover treatment of autism, a move applauded by advocates who say early intervention can improve behavior and quality of life.
In his budget this week, Deal would set aside $2.4 million for the coverage. Dozens of other states have passed legislation compelling insurers to provide for the treatments, which can be costly but effective. Research has shown early intervention treatments can prevent or greatly minimize some of the associated disabilities of autism.
Georgia is one of only 16 states that don't require the coverage, according to state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, who is the lead sponsor of "Ava's Law" that would compel insurers in the state to pay for the treatments. The bill is named after Anna Bullard's daughter, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 and who was denied coverage under the state employee health plan in 2006.
Details of specific treatments that might be covered, for how long and for what age must still be worked out by the Department of Community Health, which oversees the state employee health plan. Nearly 635,000 members and dependents were enrolled in the state plan as of December.
And lawmakers must still sign off on the governor's proposal and could make changes under the current budget process. Lawmakers are required to pass a balanced budget before the end of the session.
A decision on how to pay for the coverage change has yet to be made. State officials said it was possible it could be a combination of department funds and a minimal per-member, per-month premium increase.
Bullard and Harbin both said they were grateful to the governor and hoped his proposal would prompt lawmakers to take action on "Ava's Law."In Kansas City, KSHB reports:
Families in Johnson County are going into debt trying to take care of their children with autism. Now, they’re pushing state lawmakers to act.
Kansas is one of 14 states that doesn’t require insurance companies to pay for autism treatment. It’s treatment that could help someone like 10-year-old Claire Judah of Gardner, Kan., who may never be able to take care of herself.
"You wake up in the morning knowing that your child in going to need your care 24 hours a day," Claire’s mother Beatrice Judah said.
According to Mike Wasmer with Autism Speaks, the leading organizing for autism advocacy, therapy can cost families $40,000 to $60,000 per year. Unlike Missouri, the state of Kansas doesn’t require insurance companies to cover the costs of autism treatment for all families.