One of the committees I serve on is the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance committee. Two weeks ago, our committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 12 (“Kate’s Law”) that, if enacted, would require private health insurance companies provide coverage for the diagnostic evaluation and treatment for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for certain policyholder groups in Kansas. Both proponents and opponents testifying on the bill provided interesting and useful information.
More than 1.5 million Americans have ASD, with the disorder four times more likely to appear in males than females. Data from recent studies suggests that approximately one out of every 150 children suffers from ASD. Autism is the fastest-growing serous developmental disability in the United States estimated at an annual growth rate of 10 to 17 percent. It is now more prevalent than Downs’s syndrome, pediatric AIDS, and childhood cancers combined. In Kansas alone, the number of children with autism has increased by 236% from 1999 to 2006.
Much is still unknown about these disorders. There is no known cause or cure nor is there any known single effective treatment. Scientists are pursuing various theories, including studying links between heredity, genetics, and medical problems. Researchers have identified a pattern of autism in many families, further lending credence that there may in fact be a genetic link to the disorder.
Primary treatments for children with ASD include Applied Behavior Analysis, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. Treatments are built around the child’s interests and a predictable schedule and serve as a regular reinforcement of behavior. Experts believe that the most effective treatment intervention 1) should begin as early as possible for a diagnosed child, 2) take place during a large portion of the child’s waking hours each day, 3) should continue over a period of two to four years, and 4) employ systematic methods of teaching where the easiest and most basic skills are first taught, building towards a progression of more complex skills.
Research data suggests that between 45 to 50 % of children receiving appropriate, early intervention treatments are able to enter elementary school and progress normally through the remainder of their education without costly special supports. The remaining 50 to 55% of children with autism require some special supports to progress through school; however, these supports cost significantly less than those for children that did not receive the early intervention. Not surprisingly, the cost of intervention treatments is not cheap. According to the Capitol Area Autism / Asperger Resource Center, the average cost of treatment to a family for a child with autism averages $40,000 per year.
Various health insurance and business groups testified against the bill. They stated their concerns that typical mandates such as those required by the bill could raise premiums anywhere from 1 to 3 %. They contend that for every percent increase in medical premium costs, approximately 5,500 Kansans lose all medical insurance coverage due to their employer dropping their medical coverage due to costs.
I’m sure each of us knows of at least one family with an autistic child. These families are financially struggling to provide their children with effective treatments so that they can someday lead more productive and happier lives. Regardless of whether or not the Legislature passes Senate Bill 12, our state and local governments, school districts, and economy are already paying the price for our autistic neighbors not getting access to these treatments when it could have made a significant difference in their lives. It’s now up to the legislature to determine when Kansans should starting paying for the costs associated with autism.