The bill is sponsored by Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans,, with local legislator Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, being one of the co-sponsors.
Under current state law insurance providers are not required to cover any form of autism treatment. This often means treatment options are out of reach for most families, said Autism Bartow President Cherry Black.
“It’s just overwhelming, the expense, and then you know when your insurance company doesn’t even cover what your child does need, it brings in a whole another level of frustration and kind of hopelessness that your child needs these things that would help him and benefit him, but you can’t help him,” she said.
The lack of affordable or supported care for autistic children, Black continued, could have major repercussions in the future.
“The children are not getting the appropriate care. It’s a huge problem. It’s going to be an epidemic — a huge problem — when all these children are older and they haven’t been allowed to get the healthcare that they require. It’s going to be really scary for our nation,” she said. “It’s just the therapy my son needs; it’ll be the difference between him being able to live on his own or not being able to live on his own. He’ll be dependent on the government once my husband and I pass away.”
Megan Andrade, an autism activist who has worked to get Ava’s Law into the Legislature, said now was the time to pass the bill.
“Thirty-two other states have passed insurance reform and we have a lot of kids here in Georgia that are not getting insurance coverage for treatment that they need, and a lot of my friends have children and we’re all always talking about what grant we can apply for or how we can get money, and there just isn’t any,” she said.
Even when some grants are available, Black said, parents may not be eligible for them if they make too much money. She said it is common for grants to be available only to those families who are near poverty level.
In many cases, Andrade added, even families with two incomes may not be able to afford treatment.
“There’s several ways you can approach applied behavior analysis, but usually children with autism need 25 to 40 hours a week of behavior health treatment,” Andrade said. “The minimum that’s going to cost most people is $50 an hour, so you’re talking about a lot of money. My kid, for instance, we can only afford right now to give him six hours a week, and while it’s helpful it’s just not enough.”
For Andrade and Black, the lack of affordable care is made even more painful when the treatments and therapy — such as applied behavior analysis, pharmacy care, physicological care and other methods — can be so effective and make such a large difference in how autistic children interact with the rest of the world.
“A lot of kids who receive early intervention, or they’re able to get several hours of these behavior treatments, they totally transform. They go from nonverbal to verbal. They go from special-ed classrooms to mainstream classrooms, or they move up to more of a resource classroom,” Andrade said. “They learn social skills, where before they may not have been able to make eye contact or interact with anyone.
“... Just any possible thing you can think of that they couldn’t do before, with intense behavior therapy they learn to do it and they become successful.”
If the bill passes, Andrade believed the state would see a number of benefits. She thought it would lower Georgia’s long-term expenses, as autistic adults who go through therapy would require less state assistance and be more independent.
She also believed the bill could help create jobs.
“It’ll bring jobs to Georgia, for one thing, because the fact that insurance companies do not cover most of these treatments means that clinics and providers don’t come to Georgia because they know people can’t afford it,” she said.
Andrade said the estimated cost to a Georgia resident’s monthly insurance premiums would be approximately 32 cents. She said the number was based on cost analysis done in other states that have passed similar laws.
For more information on how to get involved with the push for autism insurance legislation, visit www.georgiaautismbill.com.