Parents facing financial ruin because their insurance companies will not pay for treatment of autistic children appealed for help from Oklahoma lawmakers earlier this week.
They lobbied for revival of Nick’s Law, legislation named for a 10-year-old Nick Rhode of Edmond, who suffers from autism. The bill missed a deadline for action in a Senate committee last week.
The measure would require insurance companies to pay for diagnosis and care of autistic children if their parents pay more than $1,000 each month for health insurance.
“Why is there discrimination? Why is there an exclusion for autism diagnosis?” asked Wayne Rhode, the boy’s father.
Rhode said the family is paying as much as $3,000 a month to treat his son.
He said parents of autistic children are seeking fairness in health coverage and not a government handout.
“There’s no where else to turn,” said his wife, Robyne Rhode.
Autism is a bio-neurological disability that affects communication skills of young children, many who also suffer from ailments such as allergies, asthma and epilepsy.
Officials say it affects about one of every 150 children.
Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, said he will push for an amendment on the Senate floor to incorporate Nick’s Law into a related bill.
Rodney Miller said the cost of treating his autistic 31/4-month-old son has reached $5,000 a month.
Miller said he is self-employed, pays $1,200 a month for health insurance coverage and was shocked to find out his Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma policy will not pay for treatment costs.
“I will probably be in debt $300,000 before it is all said and done,” he said.
Gumm said he did not move to pass the bill in committee because several committee members are philosophically opposed to mandates on the insurance industry.
He said he did not know why insurance companies exclude autism from coverage. He said coverage for autism is required in Texas and many other states.
Gumm said the fallout from many families facing autism is often divorce or bankruptcy.
Although there is no cure for autism, he said proper care can lead to victims having productive lives.
Failure to treat the disease, he said, can lead to children becoming wards of the state.
“We believe it is morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible to leave these children behind,” Gumm said.
Linda Sponsler, spokeswoman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Tulsa, said mandates like the one on Gumm’s bill can “can hurt consumers by incrementally raising the cost of health insurance.”
Sponsler said other states have experienced increases because of mandates ranging from less than one percent to 6 percent.
She added there is “no definitive medical treatment for autism other than behavioral treatment.”
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