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Insurance for autism: A Missing piece of the puzzle

Posted by Marcia Dick  November 16, 2009 11:03 AM

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The following was submitted by Medford native and Teamsters Local 25 president, Sean M. O'Brien, regarding the autism insurance bill currently in the State Legislature's Joint Committee on Financial Service:

Massachusetts is considered a leader in health reform. We’ve led the nation in ensuring that citizens have health insurance. People from across the globe flock to this state because of our world-class doctors and hospitals. We continually invest in our children to give them the best education and health care. Why then don’t we require health plans to cover treatment for Autism-services?

Autism is largely considered the fastest growing medical threat to children. With one in 91 children and one in 58 boys being diagnosed annually, Autism is more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It knows no racial boundaries and there are almost 1.5 million cases of Autism in this country alone.

An Autism insurance reform bill is currently in the Massachusetts legislature, introduced by State Representative Barbara A. L’Italien (D-42) and State Senator Frederick E. Berry (D-7) in January, and now in the Joint Committee on Financial Services.  The bill would require private health plans to treat Autism as a medical condition, and to provide coverage of the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.

Teamsters Local 25 – and our membership of nearly 12,000 men and women – believe that the community as a whole is an integral piece of the puzzle in taking us one step further towards finding a cure for Autism. It is our job in the workplace, but also in the community, to bring attention to this disorder and in three years have raised more than $300,000 for Autism research and awareness.

For families with Autism, there is no “one size fits all” approach to services. Parents are often left to navigate the process alone and forced to pay out of pocket for treatments that can escalate up to $50,000 annually. Parents are often left to choose between other essential services for their family like education, mortgages and other quality of life issues.
If this legislation passes, Autism coverage would cost just $2.28 per member per month. The average lifetime cost for an adult with Autism is estimated at $3.2 million. The Commonwealth would save approximately $7 million in reduced early intervention costs to the Department of Public Health. And research shows that with effective early intensive intervention, up to 47 percent of individuals can lead independent lives without state-funded supports.

Fifteen states have passed the bill, and Massachusetts is one of more than twenty states pursuing similar legislation. It’s time for the Commonwealth to stand up and be a leader not a follower and mandate health plans to cover Autism-services. The children and families of Massachusetts deserve it.

Sean M. O’Brien is president/principal officer of Teamsters Local 25. More information about the Teamsters Local 25 autism related activities can be found at teamsterslocal25.com.

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