13 April 2009

Family Fights Insurance Industry Autism Policies

Story from HometownLife.com

Val McFarland isn't getting help from the insurance companies in paying for treatments for her 5-year-old son with autism.

priority health michigan health insuranceIt costs about $100,000 annually, which includes physical, occupational and speech therapy seven days a week, at home and at William Beaumont Hospital's Center for Human Development in Berkley.

“Either families are going further and further in debt or children are not receiving care,” said McFarland, of Commerce Township.

Two local lawmakers are trying to help families like the McFarlands. State Reps. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) and Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) launched a campaign Wednesday to support the growing number of families struggling with the costs of autism care by requiring health insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of the disorder. Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships.

Many Michigan health insurance companies cite unproven treatment methods when denying coverage for therapy. In support of National Autism Awareness Month, Brown and Barnett also launched an online petition for residents who would like to show their support for the plan and raise autism awareness.

“It is simply unacceptable for a Michigan health insurance company to refuse coverage and let the quality of life of these children be an afterthought,” Brown said. “While health care companies cover prevalent diseases like cancer and diabetes, they continue to discriminate against autism. We can't stand on the sideline as these companies turn their backs on autistic children who may never reach their full potential without treatment.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown. But research shows that early, intensive intervention can help.

The disorder effects 1 in 150 children, and boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed. According to the Autism Society of America, Michigan has the highest rate of diagnosed autism cases in the U.S., with 12,166 children between the ages 3 and 21 effected.

Currently, 10 states mandate insurance coverage for autism. In Michigan, most health insurance companies cover only screening for the disorder, leaving families with autistic children to bear the high costs of treatment on their own.

“Insurance companies basically discriminate against autism treatments,” Brown said. “Insurance companies cover the diagnosis of autism but they don't cover the treatment.”

Last week, the House passed legislation to encourage greater research into the causes and treatments of the disorder. The plan would create the Autism Research Fund to research its causes and treatments, as well as establish a new income tax checkoff box to allow Michigan residents to voluntarily designate a portion of their tax return to the fund.

“I would hope it has bipartisan support,” Barnett said. “We're talking about covering children with a specific diagnosis.”

Val McFarland and her husband, Kevin, started the Celebrities Against Autism organization to raise awareness of the disorder and help offset the cost of therapy for them and other families.

Long term, the organization hopes to open a therapeutic center, which would include horseback riding, service dogs, an indoor pool and camps for autistic individuals.

“We started this for Callahan but it has grown much larger than just our son,” Val said. “As I began networking with other families impacted by autism, I learned how difficult it is for so many to both locate and afford quality treatment and how isolated they can feel.”

Residents can sign the petition at www.housedems.com/petitions. While on the site, residents can also share personal stories about how autism has affected them and their families.

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