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Editorial: Utah legislators should require autism coverage

Require insurers to cover therapy

First Published Feb 17 2014 11:36 am • Last Updated Feb 17 2014 11:53 am

Utah has the highest rate of autism in the country — one child in 47. The advocacy group Autism Speaks estimates 18,000 Utah children have the disorder, which causes intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical-health issues. The symptoms range from mild in some children to debilitating in others.

Children with autism spectrum disorder need special individual therapy to help them interact with others and learn the academic skills all children need and to develop the exceptional music, visual and academic skills many autistic children have.

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But that therapy is expensive, and unless insurance companies are required to cover it, most won’t. That leaves thousands of Utah families struggling with the horrific dilemma of deciding what to forgo in order to pay for the therapy that can help their autistic children become productive, happy citizens.

One family featured in a Tribune news story sold their home in order to pay for their son’s treatment. That kind of sacrifice should never be required when the Legislature has the power to help them get what they need.

Utah is one of just 16 states that do not require insurance companies to cover treatment for autism. Last year legislators approved a pilot program of sorts in which autistic children were chosen in a lottery to receive Applied Behavior Analysis therapy. They said they wanted to make sure the treatment works.

Fewer than 400 families were lucky enough to get ABA therapy through the initiative, funded through Medicaid, the state’s public employee insurance plan and private grants.

The results are in: Children who got ABA therapy learn better and improve their social skills. Testing before and after a year of treatment shows improvement across the board. And the cost was less than expected.

There is no longer any way for legislators to rationalize ignoring the desperate need of thousands of Utah children. Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, is sponsoring SB57, which received a favorable recommendation from a Senate committee Friday. Shiozawa, a physician, is trying for the third year to get the legislation passed.

Insurance companies can afford to lobby against the bill, and they can back up that professional persuasion with hefty campaign contributions.

Utah children don’t have those resources, but those vulnerable, non-voting young citizens are the very ones most dependent on legislators to do the right thing.

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The Legislature should act quickly to pass SB57.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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