Autism Advocates Push for Coverage Bill in Albany

April is Autism Awareness month, and advocates are pushing for new legislation in Albany sponsored by Autism Speaks that would require insurance companies to cover treatment for the developmental disorder.

The group's executive vice president, Peter Bell, has an 18-year-old son with autism. Bell lives in New Jersey, which passed a similar law in 2009. He said services for those with autism have improved over the years, but that there are still barriers to treatment.

"Really the greatest challenge for many families I think, like us, is getting access to those and being able to afford to use those services," he said.

Bell said the cost of the legislation is outweighed by the benefits because early intervention will help save money on long-term care for individuals with autism.

New York lawmakers approved a similar bill − which Autism Speaks sponsored — last year, but former Governor David Paterson vetoed it in part because of the cost.  

Not every autism advocacy group was in favor of that legislation. In fact, some vehemently opposed it. John Gilmore, the executive vice president of the Autism Action Network, said he felt it provided too much protection to insurance companies — and made the standards for accessing care far too high.

But he does support the current bill, which was introduced by state Assemblyman Joe Morelle and state Senator Charles Fuschillo in March.

According to the lawmakers, their bill would help prevent insurance companies from discrimination, by ensuring "that individuals with autism receive insurance coverage for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders."

Gilmore said gaining access to health care and quality education — and being able to afford them — remain top challenges. He said he is also concerned about potential funding cuts to early intervention programs, and standards that make it difficult for families to obtain the care they need for their children.

"There's utterly no question that early intervention is the most effective and cost-effective intervention that can be done in the life of a person with autism," he said.

Bell said at least half of the states have approved legislation that requires insurance coverage for those with autism. Autism Speaks estimates that 1 in 110 children are affected by autism.