Friday, March 23, 2012

Health Insurance Discrimination

Ryan had ABA again today…we are already seeing gains from it, so I guess it’s worth the ensuing bankruptcy—insert uncomfortable smile here. I have a hard time understanding why a medical condition is able to be excluded from health insurance coverage.  And autism is a medical condition, diagnosed by a doctor or clinician, not a school principal. Did I mention it is expensive? In 2006, a researcher at Harvard studied the cost of caring for an autistic person over his or her lifetime, and it came out to be a staggering $3.2 million. Most of these lifelong costs are passed on to the taxpayer, but parents of autistic children know all too well the costs of treating autism…only the health insurers get a pass.

And the thing about autism is that with treatment, many children—studies show over 50%— can improve to such an extent they can be mainstreamed in school without support, or even lose their diagnosis altogether. I don’t know of another cognitive disorder where dramatic gains can be made, such that the individual no longer suffers from the condition.  

So you’d think politicians would be clamoring to pass autism health insurance reform legislation in all 50 states and at the federal level. After all, the government does and will continue to bear most of the burden through health and education programs and disability payments as autistic children become adults. But not so…

To date, 29 states have passed legislation requiring health insurers to cover autism treatments, including ABA. And you know what? The health insurance companies, small businesses and consumers haven’t gone bankrupt…the average cost increase has been a meager 31 cents per month per insured. That’s way less than a Starbucks coffee and it could mean the difference between an autistic kid growing up to be a taxpayer him or herself, or becoming society’s burden. 

Sadly, Hawaii is not one of those 29 states, and is not destined to become #30 this year. Legislation passed through our state Senate, but did not make it through the House. I hear legislators discuss their concerns about mandates and wonder how these “principled” elected officials can condemn autistic children and their families based on a vague philosophical objection rooted in self-serving politics. 

Although it is a big sacrifice, I am fortunate to have the means to pay for private therapy for my child, but many others can’t. These parents have to make a painful decision between financial solvency and getting help for their child. I’ve talked to parents who have had to sell their homes, or worse, been foreclosed on, because they had to pay for very expensive therapy. The choice isn’t easy. I have a son who will be starting college in 18 months, and I am wondering how I will pay for ABA, which is almost like paying for Harvard, and possibly affording a state university for my eldest son. I hope he gets a scholarship.

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