Insurance coverage for children with autism warrant passionate conversations from people on all sides

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -  Autism impacts a lot of families -- especially right here in North Alabama. So a lot of you out there know the struggle of paying for the specialized therapy your child so desperately needs. Right now, two bills are making their way through Montgomery that could bring some changes.

Alabama is one of only a few states that does not require health insurance coverage for specialized behavioral therapy.

"Our children are able to become a lot more independent, possibly depending on where they're at on the spectrum, live independently as an adult," Todd Tomerlin with the Autism Society of Alabama said.

Tomerlin has a son named Gage. He loves politics and he has autism. Just like other parents of children with autism, Tomerlin is passionate about the passing of House Bill 284 which calls for health benefit plans to cover the treatment of autism spectrum disorder for the insured.

"It needs to be taught by those that know how to do it," Tomerlin said of therapy for children with autism.

Lindsay Chapman with Madison Behavior Therapy said specialized therapy is crucial for these kids and their future.

"If we think about these children coming to therapy when they're younger, and learning how to take care of themselves, and learning how to have a job, and interview for a job, these are all things that help them when they are older," Chapman said.

With the lack of coverage now, Chapman said it's difficult to entice a specialist to the state.

"We have a hard time getting BCBA's, recruiting BCBA's to move here and to work here without insurance coverage," Chapman said. "So you're looking at a lack of resources for these families in general."

As for the opposing side, Representative Jack Williams of Vestavia filed a bill which takes the place of House Bill 404. This will be introduced this week to the committee. Williams said this establishes a tax credit for businesses or individuals who purchase a rider to cover autism. The tax credit is for 20 years and will be reduced by 5 percent a year.

Rep. Williams said he filed the bill because quote, 'I thought expanding insurance coverage was important. The business community has concerns about the cost. This approach will help ease their concerns.'

Regardless of the house bills, supporting children is something we can all agree on. There's a Walk for Autism on Saturday at Whitesburg P8 in Huntsville beginning at 9 a.m. Then, in Limestone County, there will be a proclamation signing Saturday night at 7:45 on the courthouse steps before lighting the courthouse up blue for the month of April. The Autism Society of Alabama is hosting a walk at Athens high School on April 22 at 9:30 a.m. until noon.

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