Senate must act now: Reform Michigan's insurance laws to cover autism
The Michigan Senate may consider legislation next week that would enable thousands of Michigan families to access the care they need, and would save our state millions every year. The House passed this legislation by an overwhelming bipartisan vote last year.
Reforming our state's insurance laws to include autism is not only the right thing to do for Michigan's children and families; it makes the most sense for our state's economic future, saving billions of taxpayers' dollars.
Autism affects one in 110 children, and one in 70 boys. When I began serving in the Legislature five years ago, approximately 10,000 children in Michigan had autism. Today, the Michigan Department of Education estimates that autism affects more than 15,000 children.
Despite this rapid increase, insurers continue to deny coverage to children with autism. Michigan insurers cover a wide array of other prevalent disorders and diseases, including cancer, epilepsy, and diabetes, but continue to deny coverage to the thousands of children and families affected by autism. These families should have the same access to proven medical treatments as those families affected by diagnoses already covered.
This discrimination costs our state much more in the long run. A 2009 study calculates a total savings of $13.9 billion if Michigan changes our laws to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism.
Ensuring autism treatment services will bring jobs to Michigan. The Behavioral Analyst Certification Board reports that Michigan currently employs only 83 board certified behavioral analysts. Florida enacted reforms to ensure coverage in 2008, and now has about 1,800 certified behavioral analysts.
In addition, autism coverage will benefit our schools and communities. Every year, Michigan public schools spend more than $100 million to accommodate students with autism. With diagnosis, early intervention, and treatment, special education classes will shrink.
Early intervention allows more children to function independently as they reach adulthood, which would save the state an average of $2 million over the life of each child with autism. This will allow many to secure employment and live independently as adults instead of relying on state and federal programs like job training, Medicaid, and adult day care.
To date, 23 states have passed autism coverage reform legislation. Leaders across the country are recognizing and correcting the injustice of denying coverage to children and families affected by autism.
Michigan's budget deficit for the coming year is projected to be $1.6 billion. Our state cannot afford to allow another year to go by without making this important change. I urge our 37 sitting state senators to support autism coverage reform legislation and ensure that Michigan families and children can access the treatment they need.
State Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, is the majority floor leader in the Michigan House of Representatives. She represents the 55th District, which covers parts of Washtenaw and Monroe counties. You may contact her office at (888) 345-2849.