By Sen. Cam Ward
Alabama State Senate
Until 1998, women who battled breast cancer and had a mastectomy may not have received insurance coverage for reconstructive surgery. It’s hard to imagine an insurance company wouldn’t pay for making a woman whole after she stared death in the eye, lost a part of her body, and still survived. Congress passed the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) and fix this gross inequity with a common-sense mandate.
We in the Alabama Legislature just made a similarly bold move to require insurance programs – both public and private – cover Autism therapy. Some say this is an Obamacare-style mandate and healthcare tax. I say, “Bull.”
Forty-five other states already have a mandate requiring insurance plans pay for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, which is proven to help autistic patients. Individuals, especially young children, who receive ABA therapy develop skills allowing them to be more independent in school and later in life.
A lack of ABA therapy is proven to create challenges for Autistic students at school, burden government programs, and decrease the quality of life of those affected with the disorder.
It is incomprehensible why anyone would oppose the Autism therapy bill, yet some did. Who cares if it costs a little extra money when the personal and societal benefit is worth much more? Alabama already requires insurance plans to cover alcoholism treatment, breast cancer screening, colorectal cancer screening, prostate cancer screening, mammograms, and drugs that treat life-threatening illnesses. Those aren’t free, yet the benefits far outweigh the costs. The same goes for Autism therapy.
So how did we succeed in passing this bill…besides common sense? The thousands of amazing, tenacious, passionate Autism advocates. These mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and friends rose up and let their voice be heard.
The hallways of the Statehouse were packed day after day with families and children wearing “Vote for HB284” red stickers, multi-colored puzzle piece ribbons, and the signature Autism-support blue. Despite fierce lobbying against the bill by insurance interests and big businesses, the grassroots advocates succeeded.
HB284 isn’t a perfect bill, but it is a massive step in the right direction. We had to make some compromises to get it through the State Senate. The biggest shortcoming is that small-group and individual insurance plans are excluded. Thankfully, the Autism Society of Alabama and Autism Speaks remain committed to working together until all Alabamans affected by Autism have access to medically necessary treatment.
The fight is not over, but a major battle has been won. I am grateful to have been part of the bill’s passage and incredibly thankful for those Alabamians who let their voice be heard on behalf of Autistic children and adults in our great State.