By Joe Hadsall
A statewide commission on autism spectrum disorders will be assembled and, by July 1 of next year, will produce a plan for Missouri to offer treatment, training and other services.
Trisha Buerge, of Joplin, said she appreciated hearing the news. She is the mother of Jaxon, a 5-year-old autistic child who receives treatment from the Ozark Center for Autism.
“I think it’s important for the commission to provide information to the Legislature,” Buerge said. “They should know what autistic kids need to grow into successful adults.”
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder visited the Ozark Center for Autism in Joplin on Monday and signed Senate Bill 768, which calls for the commission’s creation. The commission will be made up of representatives from the General Assembly, health-related state agencies and autism-related organizations, and parents. Kinder was filling in for Gov. Matt Blunt, who is out of state.
The bill also creates the Office of Autism Services within the Department of Mental Health.
Paula Baker, chief executive of the Ozark Center, said one of every 150 children today is diagnosed with some form of autism.
The state has spent more than $15.3 million in new money on autism over the past two years. The Ozark Center on Autism was created as a result of that funding.
Tysha Van Becelaere, of Pittsburg, Kan., said her son, Xander, has benefited from the center.
“The school district wasn’t able to provide enough of the speech therapy that he needed,” Van Becelaere said. “We tried to supplement that cost with insurance, but we were denied.”
Children at the center receive applied behavioral analysis, an intensive form of one-on-one training. But the treatment is expensive: A year of treatment at the center costs about $72,000.
Baker said the center offers a sliding scale to parents based on their income. Other costs are paid for by state allocations and private gifts. But it is enough for only 13 children to be admitted into the program this year, she said.
Kinder spokesman Gary McElyea said members of the state commission should be chosen fairly quickly.
Buerge said the commission’s top priority should be to address the cost of applied behavioral analysis, and that health companies should help cover it.
“Insurance coverage should be mandated,” Buerge said. “We’ve paid about $70,000 a year over the last four years.”
But Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, said he wasn’t sure whether that extra money should come from the state’s general revenue or from insurance-premium payers.
“It won’t come from the insurance companies, that’s for sure,” Nodler said. “It will come from premium payers. But as the state gets a grasp on the issue of uninsured citizens, a system that relies on forcing insurance to cover costs will likely exacerbate that problem.”
Missouri currently is focused on using money for treatment of autism, Nodler said. But as the commission develops a plan, the state should focus more on researching the causes of autism, he said.
Senate Bill 768, which was signed Monday by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, will cost an estimated $630,504 over the next three fiscal years.
By Joe Hadsall
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