Autism afflicts one in every 150 children, yet there is no requirement that diagnosis and treatment be covered by Oklahoma health insurance policies.
Tuesday, a group of Oklahoma families joined Senator Jay Paul Gumm at a State Capitol news conference to promote “Nick’s Law.” The proposal, initially contained in Senate Bill 1537, would require health insurance policies cover diagnosis, treatment and therapy for autism spectrum disorders. Currently, at least 17 states – including Texas – have similar mandates.
“These families and children face challenges that – God willing – most of us never will face,” said Gumm, a Democrat from Durant. “I believe it is morally wrong and financially irresponsible to leave these children and their families behind.
“If insurance companies excluded from coverage maladies like broken bones or respiratory problems, Oklahoma families would be storming the Capitol demanding action. Autism is as great a health challenge as any family might face – and it should be covered by health insurance.”
Autism is a bio-neurological disability that generally appears before the age of 3. Individuals with autism often have difficulties in communication, as well as social interaction. They also suffer from numerous physical ailments including allergies, asthma, epilepsy, digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, and sleeping disorders.
SB 1537 was denied a hearing in the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee. At the news conference, Gumm announced that while that bill is dead, the effort to pass Nick’s Law is only just beginning.
“Parents of autistic children struggle every day to improve their children’s lives,” he said. “We owe it to these parents and their children to fight just as hard as they do. That is why Nick’s Law is being filed as a floor amendment on a series of bills; these families will not be ignored and we will have this discussion in the Senate.”
Wayne Rohde is the father of 10-year-old Nick – inspiration for the bill. He said families that have been denied autism coverage are struggling financially and, with limited healthcare options available, at a loss for help.
“Nick’s Law simply says that parents who pay more than $1,000 per month in health insurance premiums can count on that insurance to help with treatments,” he said. “The treatments cost as much as $3,000 a month. We aren’t looking for a hand out, but rather a hand up.”
Gumm said the mandate is a good investment for taxpayers. “Setting aside for a moment the fact that this mandate would change lives for the better, it also will save taxpayers money,” he said. “Early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to ensure autistic children have a chance of reaching their full potential and not become wards of the state.”
Rohde said the fallout for families facing autism is far reaching. “Divorce rates are higher among families with autistic children,” he explained. “Bankruptcy rates are higher, and the overall family unit is stretched thin trying to find the answers to help their children lead the most normal and productive life possible.”
Gumm concluded by noting that the words “family values” are thrown around the Capitol often. “I do not believe you can talk about ‘family values’ unless you support policies that value families,” he said. “The fight for Nick’s Law comes down to this question: Do we give these children a chance to become everything God intends for them to be?
“If every legislator who says they stand for ‘family values’ really stands for these families, then that answer should be a resounding ‘yes’.”