Lorri Unumb, vice president of state government affairs for Autism Speaks, travels the country advocating for families and individuals facing the challenges of autism. This is her ongoing series "On The Road For Autism Reform."
The best part of my job is meeting amazing autism families all around the country. During my time in North Carolina recently, I have heard so many inspirational stories from all corners of the state, and I want to share them during these last few weeks of the legislative session. Each day, I will share a post written by a North Carolina family who is working to pass autism insurance reform this year. Some of these families desperately need coverage for their own child; some of them are working solely for the benefit of others. These are the people who inspire me.
The Mullen Family
My name is Stephanie Mullen, and I am the mother of three children. My oldest, Samantha, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. At two years old, her communication – ability to understand and express – was that of an 8-9 month old; she was diagnosed with moderate-to-severe autism.
Sam was immediately put into ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy. Within 10 months, my daughter was finally able to communicate! She was able to point, give eye contact, and attempt to speak when she was prompted. She had also been taught how to learn and imitate others.
All of the therapy she received was in a state that had passed an autism insurance coverage bill. We moved here to the beautiful state of North Carolina, excited to start the rest of our lives here! However, we had no idea that insurance companies in this state DO NOT cover the key therapies for children with autism and that this state DOES NOT require such coverage. We were blown away. UNC Chapel Hill is one of the universities that led the WORLD in autism research and therapies, yet most citizens of this state don’t have access to those therapies.
Autism is a neurobiological disorder with some genetic component; there are plenty of controlled scientific studies that prove this. The biggest worry I have, as the mother of a four-month-old girl, is that my baby will be diagnosed with autism and we will not be able to get the proper therapies that she will need in order to be a successful, contributing member to our society.
Last year on April 2nd – World Autism Awareness Day – House Bill 498 was introduced. It passed through the House last May and is now pending in the Senate. HB 498 would require state-regulated insurance plans to cover the evidence-based treatments for a child with autism that are recommended by his or her doctor. Based on experience in the 37 other states that require such coverage, the impact on insurance premiums would be approximately 31 cents per member per month. And the savings to the taxpayers in the long run will be immense.
I ask the North Carolina State Senate to please help my children along with 1 in 68 other children diagnosed with autism by passing autism insurance reform. It is in the best interest of all North Carolinians to see that our children get the opportunity to live the most functional lives possible.