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.