Oklahoma is one of only seven states that doesn’t require insurance companies to cover treatment for children with autism. On Thursday, the full Senate joined the House in supporting a measure that would bring Oklahoma into line with the majority of states, helping thousands of families with autistic children finally get the help they need. House Bill 2962 was approved with bipartisan support 36 to 5.
Sen. AJ Griffin and Rep. Jason Nelson are the principal authors of HB 2962, which would require coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in individuals younger than 9 years old. If the child isn’t diagnosed or doesn’t receive treatment until after three years of age, they would be eligible for at least six years of benefits as long as he or she shows sufficient progress and improvement. Under the legislation, children would have access to applied behavior analysis for up to 25 hours a week, with a cap of $25,000 a year. The bill includes what Griffin called a cost safety valve which would terminate the mandate if premiums increased by more than 1 percent.
She said concerns about similar mandates costing too much have not panned out in other states. Griffin said by not ensuring more families get treatment for their children, the cost shifts to Oklahoma taxpayers because many of those diagnosed may end up relying more heavily on state care.
“One in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. If it isn’t something your family dealing with, chances are you know someone whose family is” said Griffin, R-Guthrie. “The good news is the right kind of treatment can make a dramatic difference in helping these children become independent, productive individuals. Forty-three other states already make sure their children are covered. It’s time for Oklahoma to become the forty-fourth state to enact this law.”
Among those watching Thursday’s Senate vote was Tara Hood, of Guthrie, the mother of two children with autism spectrum disorder. ASD is a brain disorder that affects how a person processes sensory information and their ability to interact and relate to others. Those profoundly affected may have extremely limited verbal ability and other problems, which left untreated, may prevent them from ever leading an independent life. Hood said when parents receive that diagnosis it’s a kick in the gut.
“It’s a double kick in the gut in Oklahoma to get that autism diagnosis. You know there is therapy. It’s life changing and you can’t access that therapy unless you come from a significant amount of money, or you can move to any state that borders Oklahoma and get that coverage for your child,” Hood said. “Not having access to medically necessary treatment is an unjust burden that Oklahoma families have been carrying for too long.”
Hood said enacting HB 2962 would make a dramatic difference in the lives of thousands of Oklahoma children, and for their families, and thanked Griffin and Nelson for their efforts.
“I believe this is a thoughtful approach that has addressed a variety of concerns,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I want to thank the many parents and advocates who have worked so hard on this issue. Their efforts and the support of our fellow members will give hope to countless Oklahoma families by giving their children access to therapy that works.”
The measure now returns to the House of Representative for further consideration.