Children with autism, and their parents, are faced with difficult challenges. Helping their child receive treatment is even harder for parents when it is not covered by health insurance. In most states, there are some defined guidelines for health insurance to provide at least some coverage toward the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism.
Health Insurance Coverage for Autism Services Varies By State
These laws vary by state. Some give monetary caps on a yearly or lifetime basis on how much can be spent on an individual child. Some allow for more money to be spent on a younger child than an older child. Some insist that the diagnosis be made by age 8 in order to have health insurance cover treatment for autism. There is room for improvement in many states, but the toughest battle is fought by children with autism and their parents in states where coverage is not yet required. Mississippi is one of these states, but there are currently two bills that are being considered that, if passed, would require health insurers in the state to cover screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism from birth up to age 21.
Mississippi’s Recent Push For Autism Health Insurance Coverage
Mississippi has seen similar bills in the past, and so far has failed to pass an insurance mandate for autism diagnosis and treatment. The difference this time may lie with one on the co-authors of the bills, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, whose 3 year old grandson has autism. There has also been a strong push from autism advocacy organizations, such as Autism Speaks. It is estimated that there are at least 10,000 children with autism in the state.
If the bills became law, health insurers in Mississippi would be required to cover screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism from birth to 21 years. The bills ask for coverage that includes psychiatric, psychological, and pharmaceutical care. It also asks that children be covered for up to 25 hours a week of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a treatment method that has been beneficial to many children with autism and has played a big role on their ability to succeed as an adult later on.
In addition to providing care and services for children with autism, the Mississippi bills also include some over site in an attempt to prevent that services from being misused. They call for the creation of a Mississippi Autism Board that would be responsible for issuing and revoking licenses for Applied Behavior Analysis. They would be responsible for checking for violations and setting professional regulations.
Getting Help Without Insurance Isn’t Easy
Many parents who have a child with autism have found a way to get their child the treatment they need, even without insurance, but doing so makes life more difficult for the entire family. Working an extra job has not been unusual for some parents, but that extra time at work strips these parents of valuable time with their families.
Worth The Investment
While Mississippi lawmakers may be concerned about the cost of providing health insurance coverage for children with autism, in the long run the investment would likely save the state money. Dr. Keith Radley, Assistant Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS, pointed out a 2007 study done by Chasson, Harris and Neely in Texas. Estimates for Texas indicated a savings of $208,500 per child with Autism throughout 18 years of education, if behavioral interventions were implemented early in the child’s life.
Conservative estimates in Mississippi look at approximately 4500 children with ASD in the state, and combines this data with information from National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) and statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to estimate a savings of more than $935 million just by mandating that early intensive behavioral interventions be covered by health insurance. Besides the financial savings, parents and experts advocate the treatment, noting the positive impact it can make in a child’s life, as it makes a child more employable, and can lead them to a college and career opportunities