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From the Desk of Senator Craig Johnson - November 6, 2009

Johnson Urges Passage of Bill to Require Coverage for Autism-Related Expenses

New York State Senator Craig M. Johnson, (D-Nassau), and representatives from Austim Speaks addressed the Senate Standing Committee on Insurance during an Oct. 23 hearing in Albany on the insurance industry’s role in the treatment of Autism. A video of his statement can be found at www.craigjohnson.nysenate.gov. Johnson’s prepared remarks are below:

“Hello and thank you for this opportunity to discuss this very important subject. In particular, I really want to thank the representatives from Autism Speaks for allowing me to join them this morning.

“Though I am a member of this committee, I sit here today as an advocate.

“I am here to implore members of the Insurance Committee to pass Senate bill 2366, which I believe – as 51 other of my colleagues do – to be vitally important legalization that would finally require private health insurance companies to pick up some of the medical costs associated with the treatment of an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  

“I am a co-sponsor on the bill, which was drafted and is being carried by my good friend, Senator Chuck Fuschillo from Long Island. The very fact that I traveled here today from Long Island to talk about a bill that is being carried by a member of the minority conference shows how important I believe this legislation is.

“ Autism is not a Democratic issue and it’s not a Republican issue. What it is, is something that as of a few weeks ago affected one out of every 150 children. Now, new data suggests that the number of affected children is even greater.

“In each case, Autism affects not only those children, but also their families.

“Ask anyone here and they will tell you: Having a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is hard. The time, and the extra care involved in helping their children progress and thrive is all-encompassing.

“It is also very expensive.

“Families who care for a child with Autism pay tens of thousands of dollars out of their own pockets each year for therapy and related expenses associated with this accepted disorder.

“Because insurance companies routinely deny coverage to these vital services, many families pay $20,000 a year – if they’re lucky. Sometimes that cost goes as high as $50,000.

“Senator Fuschillo and I know a number of these families. They tell us about having to take a second mortgage on their homes and take second and third jobs just to ensure that the services their children need are provided.

“Insurance companies are supposed to be there to help families at times of crisis. That is part of the compact we make with them when we pay the premiums  – when we pay the premiums.

“In my view, it is unconscionable and unacceptable for these companies to sit back and deny coverage for this condition, which currently affects more people than pediatric cancer, AIDS and diabetes. Those conditions, of course, are covered by insurance.

“This legislation would offer the relief that these families need. It would require insurance companies to cover up to $36,000 in Autism-related expenses for resident under the age of 21, through the end of next year. Then, it would be readjusted for inflation each year under the direction of the State Insurance Superintendent.  

“Similar legislation has already been passed in 14 other states, including New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

“There is a lot that we don’t know about Autism. We don’t know precisely what causes it. And we don’t know yet how to cure it.

“But we do know that instances of Autism are increasing – at an alarming rate. We also know that Long Island appears to be one of the epicenters of this epidemic.

“These families are grappling with the high taxes and high costs of living that all Long Islanders face. To not give them some sense of relief is, again, just simply unconscionable.

“Passing this legislation would simply be the right thing for them and the right thing for New York.

“That’s why I, and 51 other members of this body, have signed on to be co-sponsors of this bill. We urge you to pass this bill out of this committee and bring it to a vote in the Senate as soon as possible.

“Thank you.”