Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Nick’s Law – the Politics of Health Care Mandates

By Robyne and Wayne Rohde

Oklahoma’s Legislature is considering Nick’s Law. Nick’s Law will allow parents to obtain a timely diagnosis and effective treatments for their children with autism. It is the cornerstone for providing a wholesale and systemic change in the way families in Oklahoma care for their autistic children. Private insurance will be required to cover the diagnosis, treatment, and medically necessary therapies these children must have to become independent adults.

Autism is the fastest growing disease in the country and per the CDC is more prevalent than all pediatric cancers, Aids, Down’s syndrome and diabetes, COMBINED. Autism affects 1 in 150 children, nationwide. It is the silent epidemic.

Autism is a neurologic disease. It is a medical condition with the onset of symptoms occurring within the first 18 months of life. Most children with autism lose the ability to speak and suffer from severe gastrointestinal problems. Many develop seizures.

Costs to diagnosis and effectively treat this disease range from $3000-$5000/month or more. Autism crosses all racial and socio-economic boundaries with 400-500 children added each year to the existing thousands in Oklahoma.

Without treatment, these children will be forced through the public school system, unable to read, write, or communicate their most basic needs. Once they turn 18, they will be added to the state welfare roles at an estimated cost to each Oklahoma taxpayer of $700-$800/year. The estimated lifetime cost to care for a child left untreated is $3.2 million, per a 2006 Harvard study.

Nick’s Law will prevent the financial devastation of 1000’s of Oklahoma families. The divorce rate among families with autism is around 80%. Instead of depleting their retirement accounts, families will be able to plan for their future and start funding their retirements again.

The insurance industry is lobbying to convince our legislators that mandates will increase the cost of insurance, resulting in more people becoming uninsured. In actuality, Nick’s Law will prevent the largest mandate forced on all Oklahoma taxpayers.

This month, Arizona joined the list of states that recently passed similar legislation. Texas, South Carolina, and 10 other states provide autism insurance coverage for our nation's most vulnerable population of children.

Oklahoma is one of the least mandated states in the nation. At the same time we lead nearly all states in the number of uninsured. So what’s really driving insurance costs in Oklahoma? It can’t be mandates. Maybe it is the excess use of alcohol, tobacco, and rise in obesity rates, or the use of emergency rooms as a primary care physician.

By defending the anti-insurance mandate mantra, our legislature is driving Oklahoma to state run health care.

Since 80% of these children are under the age of 15, without effective treatment, the first big wave of these children will be applying for state and federal aid in less than 4 years. This coincides with the first big wave of retiring baby boomers. As one state senator said, it is the perfect storm. Autism, the quiet epidemic, will be the loudest sonic boom ever heard!

No comments: