After much struggle, rewriting and rehashing a program to extend coverage to as many as 750 Utah children with autism cleared a committee hurdle Friday. For Laurie Anderson of the Utah Autism Council, the early treatment for autistic kids is a compromise bill that still extends a lifeline to families that have been fighting for years to receive some help. “Is it perfect? No.” Anderson says. “Is it something? Yes, finally.”
Under the pilot program, three sources of funding would be tapped to help provide intensive treatment to Utah children with autism between the ages of two and six, and without a mandate forcing private-sector insurance coverage. The treatment provided the children during those critical years can teach some kids how to cope and deal with issues so it does not become a burden on the education system and, later, social services.
Anderson says every autistic child has different abilities and different disabilities. Her son is now a 6-foot-3, nonverbal, 15-year-old, who suffers from aggressive behaviors and incontinence. Amy Peters, a staffer with the Utah Personnel Development Center, testified at the committee of visiting a public classroom where an autistic child in elementary school had climbed onto a table in a classroom and was screaming and trying to grab onto a hanging light fixture.
“He was upset that it was going to rain,” Peters said. “After we got him down off the table, I couldn’t help but think what would have happened if we were able to intervene with his behavior at a younger age.” The pilot-program bill sponsored by Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, seeks to do that by mandating treatment for children with autism of the state’s Public Employees Health Program that is expected cover as many 46 children.
Another 500 children would be covered through expanded Medicaid service, which would cost approximately $6 million in funding since it would be matched with federal dollars, and another 200 children Menlove hopes would also be covered through other funding sources that would help small insurance plans cover the treatment.
House Bill 272's two-year pilot program would provide on average $30,000 for a single year of treatment for autistic children that would consist of approximately 20 hours a week of intensive one-on-one therapy for the children. Menlove sees it as an investment, citing statistics that 37 percent of autistic children age eight start receiving special-education assistance once in schools.
Anderson says that with early treatment, the children can be mainstreamed and “become productive members of society.” “If we don’t, these kids will be in the special-education system, they’re going to be high-cost kids. Then they’re going to go into adult-care services and be required to be under 24-hour care for the rest of their lives—and they will be adults much longer than they will be kids.”
Menlove pitched the bill as the third iteration of a bill she’s struggled with throughout the 2012 session. She sees it as a model solution since it expands coverage without wielding the “stick” of a mandate against the insurance industry.
“In Utah, we’ve tried to find other solutions,” Menlove said. “People have come to the table not because of a mandate, they’ve come to the table because they’ve recognized because of the work of advocate parents that there is a need, and we need to provide services.”
The committee agreed and passed the bill out of the House Health and Human Services Committee with a favorable recommendation. It will now go to the House floor for debate.
If you would like to find out who your legislator is to contact them about this bill, click here. If you would like to contact HB 272 sponsor Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, about her bill, click here. For more updates from the 2012 Legislature, follow @EricSPeterson on Twitter.