Advances in treatments have made a world of difference for children with autism and their families, but the costs of those treatments can be crippling
SACRAMENTO - It was a proud day for 12-year-old Ty Heid when he graduated from 6th grade. His mom credits his success in large part to early intervention to treat his autism.
"His quality of life has just been so enriched that I can't imagine what it would be like if we weren't able to access that service early on," Michelle Heid said outside the Capitol as she waited for the senate hearing to begin.
In 2011, lawmakers passed legislation requiring insurance companies to pay for some of the costs of behavioral therapy to treat autism.
"For my son the difference was phenomenal," Heid said. "People came in, taught him critical skills, like how to play with others, how to make friends, how to maintain friendships."
More than two years after the new law passed, California legislators met Tuesday for a closer look at their policies with a focus on one particular unintended consequence. While access to the treatment has significantly expanded, some parents have incurred punishing costs for therapy that can be as much as 40 hours per week. That can mean thousands of dollars each year to pay their share of the treatments.
"They can't afford it because of the co-payments or they also can't afford it because of the deductibles," Heid said.
"The co-pay issue is a real issue as is the deductible issue, and that's one of the things we're going to examine in depth," Senator Darrell Steinberg said just before chairing Tuesday's committee hearing.
Steinberg led efforts in 2011 to pass the law requiring insurers to cover treatments. The hearing drew experts from across the state. Members of the Select Committee on Autism and Related Disorders heard reports of some parents who have had to give up their insurance and others unable to afford services.
"The issue of deductibles specifically is what I want to look at very closely, and if we can provide more relief to families, I absolutely want to do it," Steinberg said.
Legislators continue to explore how much it will cost to fully fund the treatments and how many families are impacted as they approach the budget season. In the meantime, parents like Heid hope the treatment that helped her son will continue to expand to more families.
"It can make a difference for the rest of the child's life if they're not able to access the services at the point where they need them," Heid said.