Lawmakers deal blow to autism insurance advocates - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Lawmakers deal blow to autism insurance advocates

Undated_The 2009 Oklahoma legislative session is in only its second week, and parents of autistic children already have dealt them a serious blow.  A house committee has voted again not to require insurance companies to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism.  The decision effectively keeps the issue from being revisited in two years.  Governor Brad Henry, lawmakers in favor of the mandate, and parents with autistic children say the decision is not acceptable.

The sticking points seems to be from critics who say there are not enough autism therapists in Oklahoma to treat the children, and requiring coverage of the disability would drive up insurance rates across the board.  One mother disagrees, and says that if coverage is required, more therapists would practice medicine in the state. 

Autism is one of the most difficult developmental disabilities to diagnose.  Parents such as Carmen Griffith found out her son, Trey, was autistic when he was three-and-a-half.  "They're kind of hesitant to go there," she said.  "You really have to advocate for child - you really have to say, ‘I'm really pretty sure something is there.'"

There are varying degrees of autism - from mild to severe - and the disability requires different forms of treatment.  "The people who diagnose, don't treat," said Griffith.  "They give you a nice little binder with a bunch of pamphlets, and a bunch of information, and say make these calls, and good luck."

When it comes to making those calls, parents of autistic children need good luck.  Griffith says there are no autism therapists in Lawton, and only a handful in the entire state who provide additional therapy outside of public school.  "It's teaching children things that most children learn just by watching, but they need to be taught," she said.  "They need more speech therapy, more occupational therapy, behavioral therapy."

Finding a therapist is only part of the struggle - then comes paying for treatment.  "Most private insurance will cover a portion of that.  Some.  The rest is the parents' responsibility," she said.  It can cost tens to hundreds-of-thousands of dollars that most parents cannot afford to pay, which is why they have turned to lawmakers for help.  "I wish some of the lawmakers would think about the fact that if we don't cover and get these children the help they need now, they're going to bankrupt our system, they're going to be wards of the states," she said.

Supporters say more than 20 other states require more autism insurance coverage than Oklahoma.  The bill put forth died because of a party line vote - Republicans voted against it, Democrats voted for it.  Governor Henry is asking lawmakers to reconsider banning debate on the issue, and state senators also may take up the issue in their chamber.

Count on 7News to keep you updated on this issue.

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