Article first published as Autism Support Without Insurance Mandate on Technorati.
The Salt Lake Tribune posted an article about a new program being piloted within the coming weeks by the state of Utah and area businesses: Providing funds through voluntary donations from local businesses and others to provide autism therapy at the critical ages between 2 and 6. The idea is amazingly simple, particularly since prior to this the only way parents with children on the spectrum could get any support was to petition insurance companies to cover autism.
The debate is not new: insurance companies have cried foul over the possibility of needing to raise rates in order to keep their shareholders happy. Parents cry foul because insurance doesn't cover a biological condition. Insurance companies counter with doubts to that research, and parents become more desparate in trying to find some support. All the while, children with autism go without critical intervention during the formative years, and become further distanced from society. Eventually, these children will grow up, and perhaps end up Wards of the State, as they would likely be unable to care for themselves.
Something needed to happen, and happen fast. Many States have passed insurance mandates to provide autism therapy. Many people cried foul at this for fear of having to pay even more for healthcare insurance, soon to be mandated itself (or face crippling penalties). Utah had a similar bill, which was effectively killed on Capitol Hill by many who shared these same fears.
But Representative Menlove (Republican from Garland), saw an opportunity. Several businesses, while not wanting to face increased insurance costs, were willing to donate funds for autism therapy. The benefit is clear: Not only do the charitable funds help them come tax time, but none of the funds are lost in administrative costs (as they would be in an insurance mandate). The funds are not acquired through a mandatory tax either, so no taxes are being levied against businesses or individuals.
And the best bit? Children will now get support where they previously didn't have any hope. The initial running through the pilot will be small, with only about 350 children being treated, yet it's a good start. It's a testament to the generosity of local businesses, and the recognition of the Utah Legislature of the need for autism support.
Intrigued by the report in the Tribune, I looked up the bill on the state website, and reviewed the voting record. In the past I have voiced my concern for children on the spectrum to both my house representative and my state senator. I received no reply from either (seems to be growing concern with local representatives, no replies from anyone).
My representative, Democrat Susan Duckworth, voted for the provision, which won in the house with an overwhelming majority of 67 to 5, with 3 absent or not voting. This is not surprising, as she has been supportive of autism bills in the past.
I then checked the senate vote, which won with an overwhelming majority of 21 to 8. Interested in which way Senator Daniel Thatcher, my senator, voted, I found that he voted nay. Needless to say I was very disappointed, though not surprised. Senator Thatcher has voted against any autism support bills that has come up before the Senate. I have tried calling three times, twice to let him know that I, as a constituent of his, would like to see autism supported in some form by the State and once to ask why he voted against the autism bill I supported. I sent him multiple emails, both as a follow-up to the calls and as initial contacts, to let my Senator know how autism affects my family and why I support it. But all these contacts have seem to fallen on deaf ears.
Prior to this non-mandated autism support bill, I had only seen Insurance coverage as the way. But even when given a bill that had so many positives and no funding impact, he voted nay. While I can't do anything about his voting record (and he clearly doesn't seem to be too interested in my vote), I can at least be thankful that other representatives and senators were more understanding.
This is a revolutionary bill, and one that could help autism families in states that refuse to vote for Insurance mandates. I look forward to the day when autism therapy is provided in some form or another to all children in the state of Utah, where currently 1 in 77 8-year olds have been diagnosed as being on the Spectrum. Perhaps it could become a model of corporate and government cooperation that benefits Wall Street, Main Street, and everywhere in between.
Oh, and Senator Thatcher, know this: you have lost at least one voter over this policy of silence, and that's me.