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Autism Bill Would Help Families Afford Treatment

By: Bill Steckis Email
By: Bill Steckis Email

Statistics from Autism Speaks show one out of every 88 children is diagnosed with autism. With that in mind, Lincoln Senator Colby Coash is making a run at helping families cope with the diagnosis.

Chase Woodruff is like many teenagers, he's working a part time job, he's driving and keeping up with his friends in school. But getting to this point wasn't easy. That's because Chase has autism. He was diagnosed as a toddler.

Chase's mom Barb Woodruff explains what it was like for him as a toddler, "We said Chase turn off the TV. He didn't know what his name was or that the TV was the box in front of him. He didn't know how to make the screen go black."

As a young child, Chase was enrolled in an Applied Behavioral Analysis program.

Barb Woodruff explains, "ABA programs are made to fit the child and you change programs as fast as they master them."

The programs are expensive and have to be privately funded. The Woodruffs were not comfortable revealing the exact amount of money they had to pay for Chase, they're just thankful that they could afford it.

Chase's father Bob Woodruff said, "We started the ABA program when he was four years old and got a lot of skills he needed to prosper. He worked the program 50 hours a week for 50 weeks a year for 8 years."

Now, Chase is 16 years old. He sings in the choir, he's a member of the bowling team and recently bowled a 216 at the Cornhusker State Games. He took a date to the Snowball Dance. But he doesn't want to talk about himself, he'd rather talk about his older brother who plays on the York High School varsity basketball team.

"My brother Blake made a basket in the fourth quarter and York won 65-43," said Chase.

Because of the early intervention, Chase is ahead of his game, but most families aren't so lucky as the programs are expensive and they can't afford the program.

That's where Lincoln Senator Colby Coash comes in. He's trying to change all that with his legislation, LB 505.

Sen. Coash said, "Families are struggling and they go broke trying to pay for this."

Barb Woodruff added, "There are so many kids who don't have that opportunity."

The bill would require insurance companies to pay $70,000 per year for the first 3 years of treatment and $20,000 for every year after that up to age 21.

Sen. Coash added, "And we designed this bill so that it really covers the treatment that is necessary."

Coash attempted the legislation in 2012, but it didn't pan out. Insurance companies were on the fence and their lobbyists for insurance companies raised concerns.

Those who oppose the bill say it's just too expensive and that insurance companies can now voluntarily cover these costs.

Insurance company Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska issued a statement to 10/11 about LB 505 saying, “We will continue to work with legislators and those in the community impacted by autism to help address concerns over coverage, while making sure there is a level playing field between all health insurance companies. Some requirements of the Affordable Care Act and state mandates may add complexity to LB505 and will likely need to be discussed and understood by all parties.”

If passed Nebraska would be the 33rd state to require such coverage. During the scheduled upcoming hearing, Senator Coash is expecting a little opposition, but he says in the long run this bill will save money.

Sen. Colby Coash said, "This is not going to break the bank for insurance companies. My experience has taught me that this kind of treatment is giving people with autism their life back. It's that big of a deal."

The first hearing on LB505 is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 26, before the Senate Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee.


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