The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 23, 2009

In our view: Equity in coverage

Parents whose children have muscular dystrophy rely on their health insurance to assist in making sure their child gets the care he or she needs. The same can be said for the parents of children with juvenile diabetes, leukemia, or hearing or vision disorders.

That same assurance isn’t there for parents of children diagnosed with autism.

But, on Thursday, Missouri moved a step closer to making that happen. The Senate passed legislation requiring some insurers to provide coverage for treating children with autism.

According to The Associated Press, the legislation would require group health insurance plans to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism for children younger than 18, beginning in 2010.

It specifically would require coverage for a costly type of treatment known as “applied behavioral analysis,” which some parents say is particularly helpful for their autistic children. Insurers would have to cover up to $55,000 annually for such treatment for children younger than 15.

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, who voted in favor of the bill, said his decision was based on the premise of right and wrong.

“When there are actual medical conditions that require care, I’ve never been of the opinion that it’s right to exclude coverage for certain medical conditions.”

Nodler said that objections to the bill are linked to fear that it will drive up insurance costs.

“I can’t say absolutely that it won’t, but that should be a separate issue. Bottom line, it’s the right thing to do.”

Paula Baker, chief executive officer of Ozark Center of Joplin, which serves as the overseeing agency for Ozark Center for Autism, said in the 11 states that have passed the same law, insurance costs have gone down because the early intervention saves money later.

“Autism is treatable. When treated early, a child can grow up and go to school, go to college, get married. Why shouldn’t insurance cover that treatment?” she said in a phone interview with the Globe.

The Senate passed the bill 29-2 on Thursday. The bill now goes to the House, where a separate version has stalled.

We applaud the Senate for doing the right thing. We would ask our state representatives to pass this legislation, so children with autism receive the same health coverage afforded to others.

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