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Bipartisan Legislative Task Force To Hold Educational Hearings On Autism Across Michigan

LANSING, MI (April 27, 2010) – Looking to assess the needs of thousands of Michigan families struggling with autism, a bipartisan legislative task force will hold hearings across this state this spring to learn more about the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country. More than 1.5 million people nationally have autism, including more than 15,000 children in Michigan.

“"We want to know more about this increasingly widespread condition and its impact on the families – as well as the taxpayers – of this state,"” said Sen. Randy Richardville, (R-Monroe), who will lead the task force along with Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit. "“The financial implications of this condition must be looked at and considered.”"

The hearings will be held in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Ypsilanti.

Richardville appeared at a Capitol news conference where the Autism Insurance in Michigan (AIM) coalition presented legislative leaders working to reform Michigan’s insurance law with plaques acknowledging their efforts. Richardville and Hunter were honored, as was Sen. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, and Reps. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, Richard Ball, R-Laingsburg, and John Espinoza, D-Croswell.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has issued a proclamation recognizing April as Autism Awareness Month in Michigan, and both the House and Senate have approved similar resolutions.

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate, learn and relate to others. It affects 1 in every 110 children, making it the most prevalent developmental disorder in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Government statistics suggest the incidence of autism is increasing 10-17 percent annually. There is no clear cause for the increase.  Scientists are still searching for a cure, but effective autism treatments are available. These include applied behavior analysis and play therapy, which mitigate autistic behaviors.

"Legislatures across the country are introducing and passing bills “that put an end to the discriminatory practices by insurance companies against individuals with an autism diagnosis," said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president of programs and services. “We thank Sen. Richardville for having the courage to explore this issue further and to put families and their needs first."

“There’s no getting around the fact that autism has a major, life-changing impact on children and families,” said Ron Hodess, AIM spokesman, who has two teen sons with autism. “But with early diagnosis and treatment, nearly half of all children with autism require little or no special education and almost all retain higher levels of functioning. That’s why we need to make sure Michigan families have access to proven medical treatments for their children."

Most insurance companies do not cover treatment for autism, leading 18 states to reform their insurance laws to cover it, including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. Treatment can cost up to $50,000 a year, putting it out of the financial reach of most Michigan families.

“We want to make sure these families and their children do not suffer needlessly,” said Angerer. “If proven treatments are available, we want them to receive that care – not only for their own families, but for taxpayers, who would otherwise have to foot the bill for special education and other long-term costs associated with untreated autism.”

It is estimated that early diagnosis and intervention could save the state lifetime costs of $14 billion for the current population of children. It could be a key part of Michigan’s economic reform.  A recent study found the state of Texas could save up to $771.5 million in special education costs alone within the first 10 years of passing autism insurance reform legislation.

“Untreated autism costs everyone – the families affected, obviously, but also business, taxpayers, the entire community,” said Emily Olson, the mother of a 6-year-old daughter with autism. Olson quit her job in order to learn about and then administer the treatments her daughter needed but her insurance wouldn’t cover.

“Without early intervention, the chances of Michigan children with autism becoming self-sustaining, contributing citizens are slim,” Olson said. “And the cost of special education and long-term care will be a heavy burden for taxpayers.”