Autism advocates plea: don’t go home without passing treatment mandate

07/15/2014 5:29 PM

07/15/2014 5:31 PM

Children with autism and their families visited the legislature Tuesday in a final push to pass a bill requiring autism health coverage.

Leaders of Autism Speaks sent a message to legislators in a press conference Tuesday afternoon, asking them to pass the law that would require health insurance plans to cover behavioral therapy.

“We all understand politics but there is nothing political about autism,” said Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks. “Please do not go home for the summer without providing autism insurance coverage for all these people here.”

About 15 young children – as well as parents and behavioral therapists – sat and stood by the podium. Some of the children blew bubbles or bounced balloons among themselves.

Feld and others are pushing for health insurance coverage for Applied Behavior Analysis, which can cost parents tens of thousands of dollars. Insurance companies oppose the bill, arguing that it will raise premiums for unnecessary educational therapy.

“ABA treatment is the best, most effective treatment for someone with autism,” said Lorri Unumb, vice president for state government affairs for Autism Speaks.

Also at the press conference was Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Hendersonville who introduced a House bill with the coverage mandate. A similar but broader bill, SB 493, has passed through the House and now is stuck in committee as it awaits concurrence from the Senate. Political negotiations, however, have put other initiatives like the autism mandate at a standstill until the budget is passed.

McGrady said in an interview after the conference that it is possible there are a number of legislative mechanisms that could be used to move the bill along other than leaving it as a freestanding bill. It had broad bipartisan support when it passed in the House, and McGrady said he would expect the same support should it come to a vote in the Senate.

If the bill doesn’t pass this year, McGrady said he would plan to reintroduce it next session. But he hopes that won’t have to be the case.

“We will not let all these people be punished by a process that has gotten so political,” Feld said.

Autism Speaks also announced a series of newspaper ads that will run in North Carolina this week to further advocate with medical and economic information about Applied Behavior Analyss.

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