Tuesday, January 13, 2009

House Republican Plan on Autism “A Step in the Right Direction, But Only One Step”

OKLAHOMA CITY – The chief legislative sponsor of a bill to end insurance discrimination against children with autism said a House Republican plan unveiled today “falls short” of what is needed.

“Their plan is a step in the right direction, but it is only one step,” said Senator Jay Paul Gumm, a Democrat from Durant who is pushing for passage of “Nick’s Law.” “Without some kind of private insurance component, the House’s proposal will fall woefully short of dealing with the epidemic of autism.”

The lawmaker said the foundation on which a comprehensive strategy to help children with autism must include insurance coverage. Such coverage, which would be required under “Nick’s Law,” allows parents to afford the advanced therapies. Further, the coverage would create a demand, attracting therapists to the state.

“Even House Republicans acknowledged during their interim studies the woeful lack of autism therapists in Oklahoma,” he said. “We differ on how to increase the number of therapists: they think government is the answer; I believe including private insurance is necessary. Even they (House Republicans) cannot believe their plan alone is sufficient to meet the needs of these precious children.”

Further, Gumm said House Republicans seem intent on putting “taxpayers on the hook” for this bill rather than their political allies in the big insurance companies. “Every one of their proposals will cost taxpayers money,” he said. “And the small amount they are willing to commit to this epidemic is wholly inadequate to meet the needs.”

To put the House proposal into perspective, Gumm said it is like saying they want to enact socialized medicine, but only bring in a fraction of the professionals along with some college students to treat all of Oklahoma.

“It’s inconsistent and inadequate,” he said. “State government either cannot or will not provide every service these children and their families need; a private insurance component is necessary.”

Gumm said, despite the plan’s shortcomings, it is a testament to the shear will and political persistence of families of children with autism.

“With the passion and effort of these parents, we have dragged the House leadership from literally slamming doors in parents’ faces to offering a partial solution,” Gumm said.

“This will not end our struggle to help all these children emerge from the shadows of autism. If anything, every parent of a child with autism ought to be emboldened and encouraged by today’s announcement. The wall has cracked, and one day soon it will come down.”

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