Portland does the right thing for health care by covering autism treatment
Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 4:00 AM
By Tobi Rates
The Portland City Council recently approved a new health benefits package for city employees and their dependents. The new package was the result of a detailed process that refined and updated many of the services offered. Among the changes was one that was small in size, but will have a profound impact on many people in our community. At the insistence of Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman, those covered by the city of Portland's health insurance plans will now be able to receive timely and effective medical treatment for autism. Portland has done the right thing.
The incidence of autism has increased dramatically. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in every 88 children in the United States has been identified as having autism spectrum disorder. The CDC also reports that the rates of autism in Oregon are among the highest in the United States.
Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by impairments, or differences, in communication, social interaction, and repetitive or stereotypic behaviors. Fortunately there are effective therapies and supports that can mitigate many of the challenges associated with autism. In addition to physical, speech and occupational therapy, there is associated behavior assessment (ABA), which has been shown through evidence-based studies to bring about substantial positive changes.
These treatments can often make the difference between a child being able to attend a general education classroom instead of a special education classroom; between an adult living independently or living in a group home; between a talented individual being able to hold down a job and pay taxes or living on disability. The delivery of ABA and other medical treatments at the right time can have a profound impact.
The Portland City Council took a bold step in making these changes. Thirty other states have mandated that insurance companies cover medical treatment of autism, and the Department of Defense covers ABA services for its dependents. They have done this because it's the right thing. Oregon has yet to do the right thing. In the past two sessions of the Legislature, bills have been introduced that would have required the medical treatment of autism, including ABA, in a timely manner. Both bills died in committee because of overwhelming insurance industry opposition.
Currently, Sens. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, and Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, are steering a work group that is crafting an autism bill for next session. This bill will be good for everyone, including the insurance industry. By building on what has been crafted over the past few years, Oregon is very close to having legislation that ensures that the medical necessities of those affected by autism will be answered.
All of us are affected by autism. The city of Portland and its leaders are to be commended for what they have done. Now it's time for Oregon to do the right thing.
Tobi Rates is the executive director of the Autism Society of Oregon.