Today is Autism Day at the Capitol and dozens of families are there to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and persuade their lawmakers to support SB1, Ava’s Law. Sine Die 2014 was devastating to supporters of both the autism and the medical cannabis measures, but the situation this year is – so far – looking up.
Many of the kids at the Capitol today will undoubtedly be wearing shirts that bring attention to ASD and the thousands of Georgia families who live daily with autism’s impact. It’s unlikely that any of the children today are wearing a shirt with the slogan, “I’m a Lil’ Job Killer!” – but that message was implicit when groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party Patriots recently fought against insurance coverage for ASD in Virginia. Those groups, along with the Chamber and the NFIB, have opposed measures like SB1 in nearly all of the thirty-eight states that have passed such legislation.
Despite the political clout of these groups, GOP support for SB1 appears unified, and advocates for Ava’s Law have every reason to believe that 2015 is their year. SB1 will provide coverage for ASD through age six, critical years for the intensive early intervention that can be life-changing for autistic children.
The majority of children with ASD, however, require treatment beyond age six, which is when they usually enter the public school system. On top of existing per-student annual costs, educating a child with ASD will add around $8,600 to that amount. For this reason, Senator Josh McKoon was right to assert last year that taxpayers would come out on top if SB1 passes.
Moving beyond the current session, Georgians will continue to benefit if the age cap in SB1 is ultimately eliminated. What other conditions exist that, like autism, are diagnosed by a physician and are treated by medical, psychological, and behavioral specialists, but are denied coverage once a patient turns a certain age? TriCare, the insurance for military families, has no age – or dollar limits – for their autism coverage, and in 2013, Governor Rick Perry signed legislation eliminating age caps for autism coverage in Texas (there’s a not-unreasonable $36,000 annual coverage limit). Many self-insured companies and governments, including the City of Atlanta, the City of Smyrna, Home Depot, and IBM already offer autism coverage to their employees, and providing that coverage hasn’t squelched their growth. The economic benefits to families living with autism, and to all Georgians, are ample reason to support SB1 and the families who have fought for this coverage.