Op-Ed: State needs to confront autism epidemic

Craig M. Johnson

February 14, 2010

Autism is now recognized as a medical condition requiring treatment and health insurance coverage, but there is no such coverage.

"We are facing an access to treatment crisis," the New York State Medical Society told a 2009 state Senate hearing. "Getting children into appropriate services is a nightmare and is getting worse."

The medical society explained that treating children with autism takes extra time and increased case management services. Doctors need to be paid for that time and should not be required by insurance companies to combine needed evaluations with well-child visits.

A 2009 article in the journal Pediatrics on autism found that access to medical care required "treatment and coordination among an unusually large number of health and other disciplines, including primary care, educational, rehabilitation and behavioral health services." The article noted that individuals with autism "had significantly more problems obtaining needed referrals, effective care coordination, and family centered care."

The absence of private health insurance coverage for treatment of autism places the cost of the epidemic on families and on the public sector.

"Many families pay $20,000 a year ... sometimes that cost goes as high as $50,000,'' state Sen. Craig Johnson, D-Nassau County, testified at the 2009 hearing. He said that families ''tell us about having to take a second mortgage on their homes and take second and third jobs just to insure that the services their children need are provided."

The Autism Society estimates that the lifetime costs of care for a person with autism is $3.5 million to $4 million.

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