Sept. 19, 2008
Her voice quavering and her eyes welling with tears, Deborah Decker described for state lawmakers Thursday the difficulties her family confronts every day while raising her 5- and 6-year-old autistic children.
"For the last five years, my family has been living in crisis mode,” Decker, president of the Autism Society of Central Oklahoma, said as she and other parents pleaded for the state's help to obtain and pay for therapies for their autistic children.
The parents offered emotional accounts of how they struggle to pay for expensive behavioral and speech therapies not provided by the state or covered by private health insurers.
"We are bankrupt,” said Wayne Rohde, the father of a 10-year-old autistic child. Rohde urged lawmakers to require health insurers to pay for the diagnosis and treatment of the developmental disorder.
Rohde said he spends $5,000 a month for autism therapies and $1,000 a month for a health insurance policy that does not cover autism.
"Without these therapies, we're just pushing sand up a hill,” Rohde said.
The parents' appearance before the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee renews the politically charged debate over a proposed autism mandate.
Legislation known as Nick's Law, named for Rohde's autistic son, was passed by the state Senate last spring. But Republican House leaders refused to hear it after opponents claimed the mandate would drive up the cost of health insurance and might make it unaffordable for many Oklahomans.
Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, sought an interim study on the issue and said he hopes it will lead to legislation to address the "very real and significant challenges” facing autistic children and their families.
"At this point, everything is on the table,” Steele said. "We want to learn more about what other states are doing.”