Tuesday, September 22, 2009

About 2,000 people rally for autism insurance coverage in Missouri

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In the picture, former Cardinals outfielder Lou Brock (center) laughs with Andrew Roy (left), 18, and his mother, Laura, at the Rally for Missouri Autism Insurance Bill.

O'FALLON, Mo. — Parents in the crowd wiped their eyes as the legislator told how he is fighting for therapy that will help a father take his son to a ballgame, a mother enjoy a movie with her daughter and a family go out to dinner.

"We know if we pass legislation, we will give these children a better shot," Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said Sept. 20 at a rally supporting legislation requiring insurance companies to cover therapy for children with autism.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the four-hour rally and fair, organizers said, at T.R. Hughes Ballpark. Many were families of children with the disorder.

The Hill family drove more than 200 miles from their home in Mount Vernon, Mo. Their oldest son, Donovan, 6, has gone from having severe autism symptoms to mild and moderate since receiving therapy. He gets therapy every weekday at a nonprofit school in Joplin, Mo. They worry what will happen next year when Donovan is too old for the school.

"I hope we can hold legislators' feet to the fire this time because there is a real need," Melisande Hill, 39, said.

Last legislative session, a bill mandating coverage passed in the Senate but failed to come up for a vote in the House. Schmitt, whose 5-year-old son has the disorder, has joined forces with Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, to promote passage for the next session.

The insurance industry opposes the mandate, arguing that everyone's premiums will rise about 3 percent. Brent Butler, government affairs director for the Missouri Insurance Coalition, has said the industry recognizes a problem in the gap in coverage but that insurers don't want to compound the problem by raising everybody's rates and make it more likely others will lose insurance.

Autism occurs in about 1 person in 150. Research shows that early intervention can dramatically improve a child's future, but just 14 states, including Illinois, require coverage.