Monday, March 10, 2008

Arizona's Autism Insurance Law (Steven's Law)


There is a bill wending its way through the State Legislator that requires insurance companies to cover services for autism. It's called Steven's Law or HB2847 and SB1263 (you can look them up on azleg.gov). Basically it covers diagnosis, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and behavior therapy (ABA).

When I first heard of this bill, I was a bit skeptical. Maybe that sounds odd since three of my four children have an autism diagnosis, but I'm not a fan of regulation. At first glance it seemed to be aimed at forcing insurance to cover whatever fad-of-the-week treatment somebody wanted to use. That just didn't seem like a very good idea. However, after doing some research on azautisminsurance.org and actually reading the proposed legislation, I became convinced that, sadly, this is indeed necessary.

One of my main fears was that the bill might require insurance to cover any "treatment" without regard to how effective it actually is. However, the bill specifically lays out what is covered and only gives wiggle room for behavioral therapy - in that behavioral therapy will only include "evidence based" therapies such as ABA. This means that if you don't have a scientifically accepted behavioral therapy, your insurance is not required to cover it.

So why to I agree with the bill? First of all, the bill only requires insurance to cover what they should already be covering anyway. Autism is treatable. If caught early enough and treated effectively, a child with autism has a very good chance of living a normal life. It is a health issue just like cancer or chicken pox. We expect insurance to cover our necessary medical expenses and for those affected by autism, treatment is a necessary medical expense.

Second, as I have previously stated, they bill doesn't go too far. It's not covering any treatment you can come up with. It only covers those treatments that have been scientifically shown to help those affected by autism.

Third, it includes Asperger's Syndrome and PDD NOS under the umbrella of autism. Both of these classifications are similar to autism and can be helped by the same treatment but, because they aren't specifically autism, they usually don't get the coverage they need (either from insurance or from State services). I think it's about time these were brought into the autism spectrum so that those affected can get the treatment they need.

I think the only real downside of this bill is that it is necessary at all. Insurance should already be covering the things mandated in this bill. I guess the insurance companies figured that if a child with autism never becomes functional, it's the State that will foot the bill for lifetime care and not them. OK, perhaps (and hopefully) I'm being overly cynical, but it still comes back to this bill only requires what insurance should already be covering.

I support this bill and, if you live in Arizona, I would encourage you to contact your State Legislators and encourage them to vote in favor of it.

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