Senate bill 167 draws support even from those not covered
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Senate bill 167 draws support even from those not covered

Date: February 17, 2009
By: Rebecca Beitsch
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 167 

JEFFERSON CITY - More than a dozen parents of autistic children spoke before the Senate Small Business Committee to urge support of a measure that would require limited health care coverage for autism.

But one committee member argued the bill does go far enough.

The bill gives up to $72,000 a year to cover behavioral therapies and requires that coverage continues until 21

Under the current bill, only about 40 of those with autistic children would be covered.  Rupp said those who work for small businesses would not qualify under the bill, which only mandates coverage of autism under certain types of insurance plans.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau questioned those testifying in support of the bill asking, does this go far enough?

"We're going to feel good just by giving it to a few? I'm not subscribing to that," Crowell said, asking if autism advocates were really satisfied with a bill that wouldn't provide coverage to even half of the existing population in need.

Two mothers wearing homemade shirts with ironed on images of their autistic children said they came to testify in support of the bill even though they would not be covered under the bill. The two women said they would look for new jobs if it meant getting coverage for their children.  

Lorri Unumb, a Senior Policy Adviser with Autism Speaks and herself the mother of an autistic child used a maritime analogy to explain why she was vouching for any effort to cover autistic children under insurance. "It's like this. If there were 10 people in a sinking ship, and there were only three life jackets, would you hold onto the life jackets because you didn't have enough for all 10 people?"

"What I'm saying is, if we're going to do this, let's do this," Crowell said later. "I don't want to dislocate my shoulder while trying to pat myself on the back. I don't want to play games with people when only a small sliver of them are actually getting what they want."

Many of those testifying were not focused, however, on the 60 percent not covered under the bill, but rather nearly all of them stressed the need for Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, more popularly known as ABA.

Jennifer Gray, a witness from Lees Summit said that ABA therapy  would have cost her family $100 an hour. Many of the families testifying said they had difficulty paying bills out of pocket, and a few were considering filing for bankruptcy.

All of the witnesses who testified stressed the importance of getting ABA therapy for their children in order to develop into productive, tax-paying citizens.

 "It is my utmost hope that my child may get pay taxes someday," Unumb said, choking back tears.