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Bill would provide insurance coverage for autism

February 26, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Cindy Hill recalls a night when her son, who is now 9 years old, tenderly reached out to her and said, "Mom, I love you."

For Hill's son, Luke, who has been diagnosed with autism, that simple act took years of work, research and treatment to produce.

Yet the treatment that led to that breakthrough is not covered by insurance. That's the problem that Hill, of Hagerstown, and two other mothers were in Annapolis to address Thursday.

Hill said autism treatments or diagnoses are not covered by insurance plans because autism is considered untreatable and incurable. However, she, Kathy Laky of Frederick, Md., and Debbie Benfield of Hagerstown say their children have made notable improvements with biomedical treatment - a clinically proven autism treatment that recognizes the biology behind the behavior. All three women belong to a Hagerstown-based biomedical discussion group for parents.

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Legislation being considered by state lawmakers would provide insurance coverage for some families with autistic children, but Hill and others said it does not go far enough. Laky and Benfield agreed that more families should receive help paying for autism treatment.

A bill heard Thursday by the House of Delegates Health and Government Operations committee would not help Hill, Laky or Benfield pay medical bills for their children.

The women attended a rally earlier in the day to support the bill, but they said they attended only to get additional information. They also discussed some possible options with Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Laky, who has two daughters with autism, says she and her husband have paid at least $20,000 in two years in autism-related medical bills.

Hill said instead of helping only some families pay for autism treatments and other needs for their children, more funding should be diverted to a "waiver fund" available through Medicaid. The fund currently helps 900 families in Maryland - including Hill's - pay for autism-related medical bills not covered by insurance. Laky and Benfield are on the waiting list of 2,700 families.

The last time Laky checked the list was last year, and at that time her oldest daughter, who had been on the list for years, was No. 781.

The women said they would favor increasing the number of families who can access the fund by making more money available - a solution Shank suggested.

That would help more families than the bill being offered in the Maryland General Assembly, they said.

Shank said additional funding might not be available this year.

The women said all of their out-of-pocket expenses are worth it to see the strides their children are making each day.

Hill said she's refinanced her house three times to pay health care costs, and she hopes to be able to stay in it.

"You go into a lot of debt trying to rescue your child from the pit of autism," Hill said. "But it's worth everything."

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