Autism recommendations

Hed: Proponents for autistic children want insurance reform

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Many private health insurance policies exclude coverage for behavioral therapy for children with autism.

A task force developed by the 2007 Mississippi Legislature to look at autism and its related issues is asking that the 2008 Legislature change the law to require insurance companies to provide coverage.

Nicole Boyd of Oxford, vice chair of the Autism Task Force and a mother of an autistic child, told the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday that similar legislation is being introduced across the country and recently was passed in South Carolina.

The insurance reform proposal is among the legislation the task force wants the Legislature to consider this year.

Boyd and Susan Buttross of Jackson, a doctor and task force chair, told the legislative panel that if Mississippi does not provide earlier diagnoses and treatment, the state will be forced to pay much more later for institutional care.

Autism is a brain disorder than affects a person’s ability to communicate and socialize, and the effects it can have on a person can vary greatly.

Now, one out of 150 children are diagnosed with autism, compared to one in 10,000 about a decade ago. Buttross said part of that increase is due to better diagnoses, but it also appears the instances of the disease are growing dramatically.

“We have a real epidemic,” Buttross said. “…There is no cure, but there is effective treatment.”

The task force also proposes training at the universities and community colleges for people who work with the children, and an additional $2 million for Medicaid to provide behavior therapy for the children. Currently, Medicaid offers only limited services for autistic children.

The census indicates that Mississippi has about 1,000 children who have been “educationally ruled” as autistic, but many experts believe about 4,000 more haven’t been diagnosed.

Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, who operates Lee County-based Touched by an Angel, a nonprofit serving children with disabilities, said his group now serves about 40 autistic children while 10 years ago it served one.

He said his experiences indicate that many of the children can function in society if treated early.