A group of Republican lawmakers joined Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday to push legislation that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for certain therapies for autistic children. Lawmakers attempted this last session but concerns about the cost of a mandate ended up killing the bill in the House. Those concerns remain but Nixon pledges 2010 will be the year that autism coverage becomes mandatory in Missouri.
As the mother of two boys with autism, Elizabeth Obrey has seen the progress that regular therapies can produce. Her 4-year-old Chase now plugs through his A-B-Cs. Her 7-year-old Nathan is opening up, beginning to read.
Their schooling is not cheap. Even with insurance and a $500 monthly co-pay, Obrey pays thousands of dollars each year out of pocket for classes at Rivendale Center for Autism in Springfield. It is an overwhelming financial burden.
“When we moved, we sold a house and a business and that money, instead of reinvesting it in a house, it went to their therapies,” said Obrey.
With Nixon’s backing, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing legislation that would not only mandate insurance companies provide coverage — up to $72,000 a year — but prevent them from refusing or restricting therapies.
“We know that 1 in 100 kids are being diagnosed, and we know that 1 in 58 boys born today will be diagnosed,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale.
“As many of us know, autism is one of 12 major neurological disorders and the only one of those 12 that’s excluded from coverage by insurance carriers. We believe that is grossly discriminatory and a civil rights issue,” said Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Valley Park.
Obrey said she talks to many parents who would jump at the chance to put their children in a program like Rivendale but who have no financial option to do so.
Arguments against the bill are a concern about the financial burden that could be placed on small businesses and the impact a mandate could have on already rising healthcare insurance premiums.
“This is another mandated benefit and, just like any other mandate, there is a certain amount of cost to require companies to provide that coverage, and, the smaller the group, the larger the impact,” said Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho.
For Obrey, even without coverage, she’ll sacrifice for her sons, because there’s no price for a chance at normalcy.
“I do think that our children are being excluded,” she said. “If my child had cancer, would you pull chemo from them?”