RICHMOND, VA (February 9, 2009) -- Parents of children with autism and other advocates gathered today at the State Capitol, calling on members of the Senates Commerce and Labor Committee to vote to advance Senate Bill 1260 for a vote by the full Senate. The bill would end insurers discriminatory policies by requiring them to provide coverage for medically necessary treatments for children with autism.
Last week, in a moment of bitter irony for many families whose children are unable to speak, the members of a subcommittee of the Virginia House Commerce and Labor Committee failed to vote for or against House Bill 1588, the companion bill to SB 1260. The committees inaction put the onus on the Senate to move this critical legislation forward.
"Last week's decision by the members of the House Commerce and Labor subcommittee 1 to simply sit on their hands was a stunning disappointment for families from all over the Commonwealth who have been sharing their stories of financial devastation and desperate need of treatment for their children," said Elizabeth Emken, Vice President of Government Relations at Autism Speaks. "We join the Virginia autism community in calling on the Senate to step up and lead on this critical issue."
Sponsored by Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27), SB 1260 would require private health insurance companies to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder. Coverage would be subject to an inflation adjusted maximum benefit of $36,000 annually. The bill, which applies only to fully-funded group health plans governed by state law, includes diagnosis and coverage of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.
"Families simple cannot afford to go it alone anymore in providing their children with medically-necessary services to treat autism," said Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel. "I call on my Senate colleagues on the Commerce and Labor Committee to do the right thing, to take up this charge, and to help these families provide the evidence-based care their children need and deserve."
In November, every elected official on the governors Mandated Benefits Commission voted to advance the bill to this years General Assembly.
Most states do not require private insurance companies to cover even essential autism treatments and services. In the absence of coverage, families often pay as much as they can out-of-pocket for 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.
"Virginia families are stunned and outraged by the House Subcommittee's purposeful inaction despite our eight month education and grassroots campaign efforts, said Pat DiBari, Chapter Advocacy Chair for Autism Speaks. We still deserve and demand a vote in the Virginia House and we hope the Senate will be more receptive to families, doctors, educators and others touched by autism in Virginia."
Eight states Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas -- have enacted autism insurance reform legislation. Several other state legislatures will vote on similar legislation during the current session.