Parents of Autistic children packed a statehouse committee room this week to press for better insurance coverage for their kids. Lawmakers appear sympathetic to their cause but are worried about the cost. The parents were lobbying for a bill that requires companies that offer health plans to 50 or more employees to cover specific treatments for Autism.
Susan Smith of Brayton has two 16 year old sons with the disorder. She says she discovered many services were not offered in Iowa because parents couldn’t afford them. "It is truly difficult to convey to you the helplessness a family feels when they know that a reputable intervention has been identified and is available in other areas of the country, yet were unavailable to our children because of the cost and the state that we lived in," Smith said.
To remedy the situation, Smith took graduate classes until she was certified to provide behavioral analysis for her sons. Now, she wants insurance companies to cover that kind of treatment for other Autistic children. But, the interim chief medical officer at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Dr. Paul Karazija, says it would be "unsustainable" -especially since the bill allows for up to 36-thousand dollars worth of coverage per a year.
"You’re facing a potential payment for that 480 enrollee population of 17-million dollars," Dr. Karazija told lawmakers. "So, I want you to think about the fact that that is potentially a disproportionate amount of expense considering we have to administer benefits to two million plus members." Josh Cobbs of Sioux City also has a son with Autism.
"Many will say this is too costly to implement, but is the premium increase of a-dollar-86 ($1.86) per month – which is, by the way, less than the cost of a grande coffee at Starbucks – too high to give a child with autism the ability to live a happy and productive life?" Cobbs asked legislators. But the senior vice president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry says even a small increase may be too much to bear for some companies. John Gilliland says each additional mandate adds up.
"So regardless of the economy, good economy, bad economy, that adds up to money out of Iowan’s paychecks and at the end of the day that’s not in their best interest," Gilliland said. Insurance carriers also argue that some of the Autism treatments covered in the bill are "educational" rather than medical. After the meeting, legislators said they were sensitive to both sides of the issue and would work to balance the need of the individual families with the rising of cost of insurance for all Iowa families.