Autism care bill picking up support

By Robert Swift, Scranton Times-Tribune

HARRISBURG — A bill mandating that insurance carriers provide coverage for autism-related care and services is picking up high-profile support as lawmakers wrap up the spring session.
U.S. Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. spoke in support of the legislation at a rally Monday, along with state House Speaker Dennis O’Brien, R-Philadelphia. The legislation prohibits insurers from excluding individuals with autism from their coverage. It would also require insurers to provide “autism spectrum disorders” coverage up to $36,000 annually for services and therapies for children and young adults up to age 21.

A final House vote on the legislation could occur as early as Tuesday.

Mr. Casey said he views mandating coverage as necessary to helping families.

“This is simply a matter of justice,” he said at the rally. “When there is a barrier in the way, such as insurance coverage, we must do everything we can do to remove that barrier.”

There is also a need for more federal action to help individuals with autism, said Mr. Casey, adding that he is considering a proposal to create a college tuition account program for individuals with autism. Family members could build up an account to be tapped into later in an individual’s life.

Also attending the rally were Reps. Frank Andrews Shimkus, D-South Abington Township; Ken Smith, D-Dunmore; Jim Wansacz, D-Old Forge, Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes Barre and John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke.

George Shadie, a life insurance agent from Drums who also spoke at the rally, said his 18-year-old son Alex, who was also present, learned to speak because of therapies provided at a young age. To make sure his son received those therapies, Mr. Shadie said he ignored the advice of insurers and medical experts. Employed with New York Life Insurance Co, Mr. Shadie said he has persuaded his firm to extend coverage to individuals with autism.

“If my son were an alcoholic or he were a drug addict, he would have coverage,” said Mr. Shadie. “Where is the fairness in this?”