Thursday night, Aug. 3, the Senate passed by unanimous consent the Combating Autism Act, Senate Bill No. 843. Now it's on to the House of Representatives. The coalition of advocacy groups that has been working to win approval for the bill has a website, CombatAutism.org, that urges supporters to contact their representatives to support the House version of the bill, H.R. 2421. You can visit CombatAutism.org to see if your Congress member is one of 141 co-sponsors of the bill. If not, you can contact him or her to urge their support. The website says the next 30 days are critical to winning support in the House -- no doubt because the November elections loom just 90 days away from now.
If you don't have time to read the 31-page Senate bill, here is a recap of its five-year, $900 million agenda.
The House version, H.R. 2421, is (so far) shorter in terms of the money it would devote to autism screening, research and treatment. It calls for spending $570 million over 5 years, in the latest version available on the Congressional website, Thomas.gov. So if an autism bill does make it through the House, it will be important to see whether it moves any closer to the Senate version.
The House bill would set up an "Autism Coordinating Committee" in the federal government, with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bill says others should be included -- such as a Department of Education expert, and families and others who deliver services to people with autism, as well as people on the autism spectrum -- but leaves such decisions up to the secretary of health and human services. This committee would coordinate autism research efforts.
Some important similarities are in both the House and Senate bills. The House version also calls for monitoring autism screening of children, and for funding research and treatment of people with autism spectrum disorders. On treatment, the House bill calls for providing "comprehensive medical care for individuals with autism through evidence-based practices, with specific attention to medical conditions that may be associated with autism, and to disseminate information on the medical care of individuals with autism to health professionals and the general public." It also says the government will award a grant "to a national organization that will establish and support regional centers of clinical excellence to provide medical care to individuals with autism and promote research aimed at improving the treatment of such individuals, and that will build a shared national medical database to record the results of treatments and studies at the regional centers."
One last thing. According to a statement from Cure Autism Now, one of several advocacy groups lobbying for passage of this legislation, the Combat Autism Act -- if it passes -- would be one of only a handful of single-disease laws. The group says the most notable one in recent times was the 1990 Ryan White CARE Act for HIV/AIDS.