May 24, 2010 • The Rossman Group
YPSILANTI, Mich. – Autism experts and parents said today at the first of four public hearings that more Michigan children with autism will go untreated unless Michigan insurers help cover medically proven therapies that families can’t afford on their own.
“It’s heartbreaking to learn your child has autism, but to find out your insurance company won’t cover treatments that would allow your child to live a fuller, more independent life – that creates such despair, and thousands of Michigan families are feeling that right now,” said Pamela Lemerand, director of the Autism Collaborative Center at Eastern Michigan University.
The center was the site of the first of the bipartisan hearings spearheaded by Sens. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and Tupac A. Hunter, D-Detroit. The lawmakers want to know more about the impact of the complex neurobiological condition on the families of the 15,000 children in Michigan who have autism. Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate, learn and relate to others.
Autism affects one in every 110 children and is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It can be effectively treated with early, intensive intervention such as speech, occupational and physical therapies, and behavioral health therapy, but treatment can cost $50,000 annually.
“We need to know firsthand how this devastating condition affects Michigan families," Richardville said. “It's important to explore various options that may represent an opportunity to help those in need and be more efficient with public funds.”
Insurance companies generally do not cover autism treatment, so 19 states have updated their insurance laws to cover it.
It is estimated that early diagnosis and intervention could save Michigan taxpayers lifetime costs of $14 billion for the current population of autistic children. The savings reflect avoided costs for supports such as long-term care and special education.
“If diagnosed and treated early, children with autism can make significant gains that affect their independence and family functioning in many ways,” said Dr. Catherine Lord, director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center. “Making sure insurance companies cover early treatment just makes good fiscal sense.”
But it’s also a social injustice that needs to be addressed, Lord said. “What other medical condition with known, medically proven interventions is routinely denied coverage?"
A recent study found the state of Texas could save up to $771.5 million in special education costs alone within just the first 10 years of passing autism insurance reform legislation. In Michigan the savings could be $3 billion over the entire school lives (age 3-26) of the 15,000 children with autism.
“Without insurance reform, Michigan taxpayers will continue to be saddled with these costs and Michigan children won’t have access to medically proven therapies that can be life-changing for them and their families,” said Lorri Unumb, senior policy advisor and counsel for Autism Speaks, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that has helped win legislative reforms in several states.
Plans are under way for additional hearings in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing.
Contact: Sharon Emery 517-896-7075 (c), 517-487-9320 (o)