Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kansas Autism Task Force Looks at Health Insurance Issue

Advocates for people with autism spectrum disorders should take a look at the work going on at the Kansas Autism Task Force, where a group of citizens appointed by the governor have been working to identify the scope of the autism challenge facing the state and what to do about it. In particular, the panel's insurance subcommittee is worth watching because it is tackling the thorny issue of how to share the burden for autism services by engaging the insurance industry. In a report on its September 20 meeting which you can read here in a PDF document, the group states:

Two important points were stressed at the outset of the subcommittee meeting:

1. Early intensive intervention provides dramatic cost savings over the lifespan of an individual with autism.

2. The intent of this subcommittee is not to suggest that the entire burden of financing early intervention be placed on the insurance industry alone. The magnitude of the autism epidemic necessitates that this be a shared responsibility.

This statement asserts two important ideas for both advocates and policy makers: that it's cost effective to provide early childhood autism services because it saves money later; and that there's a collective responsibility for helping people with autism.

The meeting report discusses related issues, including:

* The difficulty that families can have in getting coverage for autism services (one parent, the chief operating officer of a health insurance organization, had to spend more than a year appealing denial of speech therapy coverage by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas).

* Comments from insurance lobbyists who say that covering autism services would raise premiums.

* Notes from a 2004 report from the Kansas Department of Insurance saying autism services coverage would have "no meaningful impact" on overall health care costs in the state.

Michael Wasmer, a member of the Kansas task force and a founder of the Kansas Coalition for Autism Legislation, has issued a call for more testimony from representatives from the health insurance industry for the panel's next meeting on October 25.

The Kansas panel is tackling not just health insurance, but all the important issues—identifying the people affected by autism, best practices for providing services, professional development for those providing services, school-based services and funding—with a goal of recommending legislation to improve availability and accessibility of autism services. You can visit the task force's website to see a summary of its second meeting by clicking here.

Also see on Autism Bulletin:

* Update from Kansas Autism Task Force

* Kansas Appoints Autism Task Force with Goal of Improving Access to Services

* Report with Map of State Health Insurance Laws

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