By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Gray clouds hung low over the Statehouse as children and adults in red t-shirts gathered to bring awareness to a special need in insurance reform.
There was a sense of joy, hope and resolve expressed by many as they waited for the speaker to take the mic, these were children and adults with Autism.
They came to the Capital to ask the members of the House and Senate to join their cause by enacting insurance reform.
The crowd of around one hundred, erupted with thunderous applause as Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) walked forward to speak. Ward has become a champion to many of these people, fighting for them to have a better life.
“We would not be here today if it were not for you and the fight you are carrying on,” said Ward to cheers from the audience.
The fight Ward is speaking about is an insurance reform bill SB283 that would require health benefit plans to include coverage for treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder for children. Insurance plans currently only allow for 30 visit a year and according to doctors this is not enough to provide Autism patience with the care they need to develop properly.
Ward, spoke passionately saying, “This movement is bigger than all of us, because the work we do here will take us long into the future, this is how great things happen, when people come together in selfless acts and realize that their children and their children’s children will benefit from the work they are doing today.”
Ward and his wife Julie have a daughter who has Autism, and the two have work diligently to not only provide for her but for all Alabamians who are effected by Autism.
Lorri Unumb, a spokeswoman for Autism Speaks, has said she is grateful for the support the bill is receiving from the legislature.
“It is fiscally responsible to enact this kind of legislation. The cost isn’t zero, but it’s pretty low to give these kids what they need to live functioning lives,” Unumb said. “This bill is the difference between a meaningful life and nothing for these children, and it’s the difference between financial ruin and not for the family.”
Statistically 1 in 110 children Alabama are diagnosed with Autism and the number does not appear to be slowing but is seem to be increasing.
“This is about peoples lives, children who want to grow up and be productive, to live independent lives,” said Ward, “But without those therapies that can’t and it is wrong.”
If Ward’s bill passes Alabama would follow in the foot steps of 29 other states who have passed similar legislation.
Sen. Slade Blackwell (R-Birmingham) was next to speak, first bringing attention and praise for the work that the Wards had done on the bill. He especially pointed out Julie Ward’s contribution by saying, “Without Julie going through the Statehouse talking to Senators and testifying before our committee we would not be here today, she has done a fantastic job.”
Blackwell said he thinks the age requirement in the senate bill needs to be altered to accommodate more people as well as the number of therapy sessions covered by insurance needs to be increased.
He pledge his commitment with some humor but force saying, “I am the Chairman of Banking and Insurance in the Senate and if we need to get those guys in a headlock to make things change I am committed to doing that.”
It has been estimated that the cost incurred would be minimal, with a projected cost of $.31 per month per person.
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) who is sponsoring the bill in the House said it was an honor to have worked with those with Autism over the last five years.
He said the House bill already has an age increase and that he is working on an increase to therapy visits.
“We need you to call, write and email your representatives, we need to keep pushing forward on this,” said McCutcheon, “I promise you I am not going to let this bill lay around.
Supporter and those with Autism continued the day visiting member of the Legislature.