Bill in Legislature Would Mandate Insurance Pay for Autism Treatment
Families and agencies dealing with autism support senate bill
ANCHORAGE - Of the many bills being considered in the Alaska legislature right now, one stands out for parents of children with autism. Senate Bill 74 would mandate private insurance companies pay for treatment. The bill has the support of many agencies that work with children with special needs and plenty of parents. In Alaska nearly one out of every 100 children born will have the brain-based disorder.
Bree Ann Davis has a son with autism. Steven is six years old now. She said he developed normally up till about 18 months old, when everything changed.
“It was like a light switch,” said Davis. “He wasn’t the same child. He stopped talking, stopped interacting. He basically cried all night and day and we didn’t know what was wrong.”
By age two he’d been diagnosed with autism. The family said it’s been a rough road ever since. The disorder makes Steven’s behavior extremely unpredictable. He is overwhelmed by change and new experiences. Oftentimes his frustration results in violent or antisocial behavior. Biting and hitting have gotten him suspended from kindergarten more than a dozen times.
For a mom that’s hard to watch. Davis said her son can be a loving little boy one moment then melt down in frustration the next. She and her family have worked hard to help Steven including securing a Medicaid waiver that makes him eligible for many services. But she said, so far, nothing has worked.
“All I know is that we have exhausted every resource we have to help him and none of it’s working. And it's hard for me to know that there is a treatment out there that is proven to work that we can't get to.”
Davis is convinced a type of therapy not covered by her insurance could make a big difference for her son. It’s called ABA therapy. That stands for “applied behavior analysis”.
“We work on finding out what is the function of that behavior and that's where we start,” said ABA therapist Rebecca Edge. “Why do we think that they are doing this? Then we try and tackle it from that angle.”
The technique involves intense sessions with children starting at a very young age. Therapists work on language and social skills using positive reinforcement.
The treatment has been proven to be very effective but it doesn’t come cheaply. Costs could easily run to $2,000 a month. Without the sort of insurance coverage Senate Bill 74 would mandate, many families like the Davis’s say they can’t afford it.
“Our insurance will pay to put him in a facility, they will pay for out of state treatment, but they won’t pay for this therapy that he needs,” said Bree Ann Davis.
She said it’s a heartbreaking situation for a parent who’d do anything to see their child succeed. She hopes the state will do its part and pass a bill that would make insurance coverage mandatory so that her child can get the help she’s sure he needs to live a fuller life.