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Autism Speaks Joins New York Autism Community In Calling For An End To Autism Insurance Discrimination In The Empire State

Special Joint Senate Committee Hearing Explores Legislation Requiring Insurers to Cover Autism Diagnosis and Treatment
October 23, 2009

NEW YORK, N.Y. (October 23, 2009) – Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, today joined members of the New York autism community in calling on the state legislature to pass autism insurance reform legislation during the current legislative session. Fifteen states, including neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut, have already enacted legislation ending private insurers’ discrimination against children with autism. 

 
New York is one of thirty-five states that do not require private insurance companies to cover even essential autism treatments and services. In those states, insurers often explicitly exclude coverage of these therapies from policies, which places a significant financial burden on families seeking to provide their children with necessary services. 
 
Testifying before a special joint hearing of three state senate committees, Autism Speaks Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel Lorri Unumb -- the mother of an eight year-old son with autism – told the senators that in the absence of insurance coverage, families often pay as much as they can out-of-pocket for essential, medically-necessary services that can cost upwards of $50,000 per year. In the process, many risk their homes and the educations of their unaffected children – essentially mortgaging their entire futures.
 
“We know that behavioral therapies work, and yet we have kids who can’t get the treatment they need and deserve because their parents aren’t wealthy,” said Unumb. “It’s not only sad, it’s unfair, given that these families are paying insurance premiums every month to ensure that their children’s health needs are covered.” 
 
Unumb also told the senators that the economic toll of failing to provide critical therapies to children with autism will be severe in the long term. It is estimated that it costs society more than $3 million to care for a person with autism throughout his or her lifetime. Recent studies indicate that approximately one in every 100 children, including one in 58 boys, is now being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.  
 
“There is an autism tsunami coming, and it is going to cost the state an extraordinary amount of money in special education and adult care if the current generation of kids does not get the treatment they need,” added Unumb. “Without private insurance playing its part, the treatment is simply not going to happen.”
 
Autism Speaks applauded State Senator Neil Breslin, chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, Senator Thomas Duane, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, and Senator Shirley Huntley, chairwoman of the Senate Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee, for holding the hearing, a critical first step in advancing legislation.
 
“State legislators in New Jersey, Connecticut and thirteen other states have already acted to meet their obligation to thousands of constituents affected by autism insurance discrimination,” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president of programs and services. “It is time for New York’s lawmakers to follow suit.”
 
"I have recently been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and am receiving treatment thanks to my health insurance. My prognosis is good. Why isn’t my son with autism afforded the same opportunity?" said Michael Giangregorio, a parent and autism advocate from Long Island. "So many valuable hours have already slipped by and we cannot wait another moment for an end to autism insurance discrimination. I thank Senators Breslin, Duane and Huntley for having the courage to hold a hearing on this important legislation that will help so many families in New York State like mine."