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Editorial: Autism treatment works, and should be covered

Published March 4, 2014 5:30 pm

Utah kids need Legislature's help
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Legislation that would give autistic children in Utah a brighter future and help their parents deal with the challenges they face trying to provide therapy to their children should become law.

The important measure, requiring Utah health insurers to cover autism treatment, has passed the Senate. The House would be acting in the interest of Utah families if it were to also pass it. Gov. Gary Herbert should sign it.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, a physician, is sponsoring the legislation for the third year.

"We know that this is a real disease, we know there is a cure. We're simply asking for insurance coverage for these insureds," he said. A small-scale effort last year in which families won help paying for therapy in a lottery has shown that such therapy is successful.

But some legislators, including Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, are citing cost as a reason to oppose SB57. That excuse is bogus.

The $3 million the bill would require to meet demand for coverage through state-funded insurance programs is a pittance compared to the benefits it would provide 18,000 Utah children — Utah has the highest rate of autism in the country — and their families.

"But I'll have to take someone else's money in order to fund this program. Where do we draw the line?" said Christensen.

There are some obvious places to "draw the line" so funding is available for this vulnerable group of children. How about the millions the Legislature has approved for such frivolous budget items as appealing a court ruling striking down Utah's discriminatory law denying gay people the benefits of marriage?

Or the $3 million requested to fight a federal listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species? Or the $1 million-plus allocated with no strings attached for lobbying to get wolves off the endangered list, although the animals are almost non-existent in Utah?

As House Speaker Becky Lockhart said about her proposal to spend $300 million on a technology initiative for schools, "... we can find the money."

The Legislature can and should find $3 million to give thousands of Utah children a chance — perhaps their only chance — to support themselves and their future families, to become productive citizens.

Thirty-four other states have managed to do so, and Utah touts its commitment to children and families as higher than most.