Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lawmakers plan health, economic issues for session

Tahleguah Daily Press

Press Staff Writer
“It’s important that we get Nick’s Law to a vote of the people,” said Brown.

Brown is also spearheading HB 2902, which would provide insurance coverage to developmentally disabled dependents for a longer period of time. “This would allow parents who buy insurance coverage for their disabled children to extend the age of coverage to 25,” said Brown. “If it passes, it would be effective Nov. 1 of this year.”

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Oklahoman Editorial Feb 7, 2010

Autism studies bolster argument to act slowly

OUR VIEWS Prevalence rates vary widely
The Oklahoman Editorial
Published: February 7, 2010

AN insurance coverage mandate for autism therapy was a highlight of Gov. Brad Henry’s 2009 State of the State address. The issue didn’t make the highlight reel in Henry’s 2010 speech. It was never mentioned.

Last year Henry joined legislative Democrats in pushing for the mandate, which supporters say would carry a minimal cost and opponents say would be quite expensive.

One mandate bill was killed last year and that bill can’t be considered this session. The mandate has slipped from attention either for practical reasons — Republican resistance is too strong and the GOP has the majority — or for fiscal reasons: This isn’t a good time to place a financial burden on the insured, including state employees.

This is a good time to ask hard questions about the diagnosis for autism. One day after Henry’s speech, The Wall Street Journal compared two recent studies on the prevalence of autism. The studies agree on some points and disagree on others, but the overarching conclusion is that no one really knows why the prevalence rate varies so widely among locales and from one time period to the next.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the national rate for autism spectrum disorder in 2006 at one in 110 American 8-year-olds. That’s up 57 percent from 2002. Why? Is it because more children have autism or because of changing definitions of who has it and who doesn’t?

Columbia University researchers found that the prevalence rate varies greatly within Los Angeles and environs, with higher rates in Beverly Hills than most areas. Why? No one knows.

The theory that early childhood immunizations are responsible for an autism spike is losing credibility. Researchers have struggled in vain to find solid evidence that would prove the theory.

One study says prevalence is greater among the children of highly educated parents. Another study discounts the influence of education. Children born in northwest Los Angeles are four times as likely to be diagnosed with autism as children in any other part of California. Why? No one knows.

Parents of children with an autism diagnosis have made passionate appeals for the coverage mandate. Their emotional arguments are tough to resist, yet the studies cited above offer more reason to urge caution on a mandate that would likely never go away and that would cost the insured ever more money if the diagnosis rate continues to soar.

As awareness builds of autism, more parents are likely to look for signs of trouble and seek a diagnosis. That in turn will likely drive the prevalence rate up. Jon Bai, a federal government epidemiologist, calls the increased rate "a perplexing and urgent concern.”

The pro-mandate side may yet win the argument because the number of autism-diagnosed children is growing so quickly — and so inexplicably.

Read more:

Legislation would help the 14,000 children with autism in Virginia

February 7, 2010

Once again, the General Assembly is convening in Richmond, and the tasks and challenges they face are not getting any easier.

Our budget has a large shortfall, our economy is in the tank, and let's not talk about Virginia's roads, bridges and tunnels.

Wouldn't it be great if we could fix some of these issues in a cost-effective manner and save the state and taxpayers money? Well, we haven't found a way to fix the roads or the economy, but we have found a way to fix our autism crisis.

Our autism crisis at present affects more than 14,000 children in Virginia.

We continue to work with our legislators to gain assistance for the families and children with autism by asking that insurance companies cover the cost of medically prescribed services for our children.

The House Labor and Commerce Subcommittee last Tuesday reached a 4-to-4 deadlock on HB303, a bill championed By Del. John Obannon.

The Senate Labor and Commerce committee will vote on SB464 this coming Monday. It is a similar bill championed by Sen. Janet Howell.

Both autism bills are modeled after bills that were enacted in Texas and Pennsylvania in the past few years.

These states have found they can provide the medically prescribed services to their children and create savings of between $187,000 and $220,000 per child in special-education costs over a three-year period. In Virginia the savings are estimated at $167,000 per child. With 14,000 children, that equates to $2.3 billion in savings.

How can this happen? Well, first understand that our public schools are tasked with providing a free and appropriate education for all children in Virginia.

It's a federal law that actually sounds better than it is.

Defining appropriate has been and continues to be an issue. What's appropriate for a child with autism is very different than what is appropriate for a child without a neuro-developmental disorder.

It's not that we have poor-quality public schools in Virginia; we have great schools, teachers and administrators.

However, if our U.S. Surgeon General and the American Pediatric Association define Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) as the best-practice therapy for children with autism, and our schools are not trained, certified or staffed to provide this, guess what happens?

The education is free (well, not free — we do pay taxes); however, it may not be appropriate.

Having an insurance company pick up its share of what is prescribed by a medical doctor solves many problems.

First, our kids with autism get the help they need. Second, our schools are better able to teach the kids they are trained to assist. A child with autism needs both medical and educational therapies and services to get better.

We all know there are no free rides (again, think roads, bridges and tunnels,) so here's the catch. In order to have this occur, insurance premiums are forecasted to increase 0.4 tenths of 1 percent.

That calculates to a projected $1.26 per month per policy — or $15.10 per year.

As an additional benefit to our kids, taxpayers and society, 50 percent of the kids who receive ABA services will no longer need state assistance to live productive lives (estimated at $3.2 million per child over the course of their life). Parents and family members can return to the work force and focus on earning a living, saving for the future and providing for their other children.

So where does this leave us?

It leaves us with a bill that our senators and delegates should no longer postpone. The price of inaction is more than Virginia can afford. Please call your representatives and ask them to support this legislation. The families of children with autism in Virginia thank you.

Llobell is a Virginia Beach resident and the proud grandparent of a 5-year-old child with autism.,0,5997236.story