February 18, 2014
Senator Wayne A. Harper
Re: SB 57
SB 57: Autism Services Amendments was recently given a favorable recommendation by the Senate Business and Labor Committee by a 6 to 1 margin, and is now slated to have its second reading in the senate. I gave testimony in support of that bill to the committee as the father of two children with autism spectrum disorders, and now I am writing to you to encourage you to vote “yes” for this very important piece of legislation.
As you may be aware, Utah has the highest autism rate in the nation (1 in 47 children, as opposed to 1 in 88 nationwide), yet currently Utah is one of only 16 states where insurance companies are not required to provide coverage for proven autism treatments. As a result, families of autistic children, families that have insurance and pay their premiums, must pay for autism therapy out of pocket. In fact, parents are frequently denied coverage for issues not related to autism (such as a broken arm) simply because the child has an autism diagnosis. Many end up going into severe debt to pay for the treatment; some lose their homes, declare bankruptcy, go on welfare, etc. Others simply can't pay and their children go untreated. Without vital therapies, these children are almost certain to never be able to live independently, hold down a job, and have meaningful relationships. They are cared for by their parents for the rest of their lives, sometimes becoming wards of the state when their parents die or can no longer care for them.
It does not have to be this way. Proven therapies such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) can dramatically increase the success rate in helping children with autism overcome their challenges, eventually being mainstreamed in public education. (Senator Shiozawa can provide results from the state's pilot program for government employees if you'd like to see details.) They can grow up to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society. Their families will not have to choose between their financial well-being and getting therapy for their child.
Providing this therapy does not result in a significant increase in insurance cost. While insurance lobbyists warn that small business will drop coverage for their employees due to increased cost, the facts paint a different story: there is no data from any of the 34 states that have passed autism insurance reform to suggest that this has happened. Findings from other states that require this coverage show that the average cost increase is a mere $0.15 per member per month for the first year after implementation, and only $0.31 the second year (due to increased awareness). In fact, many small businesses in Utah support autism insurance reform. I work for one of them!
This is not a partisan issue. States from both sides of the aisle have passed laws to end insurance companies' discrimination against children with autism. The fact is, society will pay the cost of autism one way or another. We will either pay it in insurance premiums, or we will pay it through welfare. Making this coverage available to Utah children helps keep families financially secure, reduces the people's welfare burden, increases the taxable base, ends discriminatory behavior by insurance companies, and does great personal good. It's not just the compassionate thing to do, it's the fiscally responsible thing to do.
I urge you to please vote “yes” on SB 57.
Robert J. Walker