The following column was written by Autism Society of North Carolina CEO Tracey Sheriff.
State lawmakers have an opportunity to right an unfortunate injustice this legislative session. Currently in North Carolina, the nearly 60,000 individuals with autism and their families face unfair financial hardship because of an inequality in their health insurance coverage.
To correct this inequality for North Carolina families, House members from both sides of the aisle have introduced House Bill 498 which requires private health insurance companies and the North Carolina State Health Plan to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism.
Thirty-two states currently require autism insurance coverage, while eight more are considering similar legislation. This legislation has afforded thousands of families in other states access to autism treatment that until now was only available in select corporations and through the federal government’s TRICARE insurance program. The 40 House sponsors of HB498 have taken an important step towards assuring this same access to autism treatment for North Carolina families.
Today one in 88 Americans are born with autism, a non-curable but treatable neurobiological disorder that impacts communication, social interaction and behavior. The National Center for Disease Control describes autism as one of the nation’s most critical health issues and its incidence is on the rise. Autism affects more children than cancer, AIDS and diabetes combined.
And it does not differ from other non-curable chronic medical conditions that health insurance routinely covers, including asthma, diabetes and hypertension. Yet children with autism do not have access to the health insurance coverage for treatment that is routinely provided for these and other health disorders.
The cost of autism care is $90 billion a year in the U.S. and places a heavy burden on the families who live with the disorder but cannot afford appropriate autism treatment. These families are paying health insurance premiums, yet their child with autism is excluded from coverage.
Families face the day-to-day challenges of raising a child with autism plus the additional financial hardships that result from health insurance exclusions. Unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenditures for medical care and autism treatment put families in financial insecurity, debt and even bankruptcy as they utilize savings and retirement funds to pay for needed therapies. Alternatively, families are forced to make the agonizing decision to not provide their child with these evidenced-based therapies known to improve symptoms dramatically.
While the costs of autism care are staggering, the cost for autism health insurance coverage is minimal. The insurance industry’s own claims data show that autism insurance coverage generates an increase in premiums of less than one percent.
In our state, that small investment would yield big returns. Autism treatment focuses on diminishing or controlling symptoms that can range from mild to quite severe. Research shows that symptoms of autism can be improved by appropriate evidence-based therapies thus improving the quality of life for the individual and his or her family and reducing the long-term costs to society of caring for untreated children. Every new child diagnosed with autism will cost an estimated $3.2 million over his or her lifetime. Early diagnosis and intervention can reduce this cost by two-thirds. Autism insurance coverage will help make this happen.
Autism insurance coverage would reduce costs to schools because children with autism would receive a head start on appropriate therapies before they entered the school system. Autism insurance coverage would also attract new health care jobs to North Carolina. Availability and access to board certified behavior analysts and other evidence-based autism treatment providers would grow if lawmakers require autism insurance coverage. And ultimately, autism insurance coverage would save taxpayer dollars by reducing the long-term costs of care.
The Autism Society of NC has been promoting opportunities and providing supports for North Carolinians with autism and their families for over 40 years. Every day, we hear from families about the hardships they experience from this unfair health care insurance exclusion. Along with many community partners and lawmakers, we have been working tirelessly to pass autism health insurance coverage in NC. This year, we encourage lawmakers to make it a reality.
HB 498 has already attracted 40 House sponsors from both sides of the aisle. We urge our remaining state lawmakers to join their colleagues and show their support for North Carolina families by correcting the exclusion of autism therapies from health insurance coverage.
Tracey Sheriff is CEO of the Autism Society of North Carolina. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Filed under: Advocacy, Asperger's Syndrome, Autism, Autism Society of NC, Legislative/Policy Issues | Tagged: autism, autism insurance, Autism Insurance Advocacy, autism insurance exclusion, Autism Society of North Carolina, Developmental disability, Intellectual disability, north carolina autism insurance |