Politicians and parents debate how to free-up autism treatment

Updated: Mar. 14, 2018 at 7:10 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Most parents agree they want what's best for their child, especially when it comes to healthcare. But inside the State House, there's disagreement on how to best get autism treatment available to more South Carolina families.

Two bills take different approaches to helping families afford to pay for treatment they say is critical for children with autism; the bill in the Senate is S. 1067, while the House bill is H. 3790. Some moms are speaking against the Senate bill.

Tanya LeBoeuf says her son, Cameron, has come a long way with his autism treatment. Three life-changing words for LeBoeuf and families like hers are 'Applied Behavior Analysis' (ABA). It's a treatment used often for children with autism, that helps bring positive changes in behavior.

"He needed 'ABA' therapy more than he needed A-B-C's and 1-2-3's," LeBoeuf said.

However, it can be expensive for those whose insurance won't cover it. In South Carolina, most small group health plans don't. That's the only group not required by law to cover autism therapy.

LeBoeuf and Cameron attended a Senate committee meeting on Wednesday morning, where senators discussed their plan. Emily Wright sat beside her with her daughter, Reagan.

"Reagan has private insurance. We have an individual plan through Blue Cross, but it excludes ABA therapy, so she can't get ABA through health insurance. Reagan has been approved through Medicaid but the waiting list is so long that she's still not yet come up," Wright said.

Under the Senate bill, a government fund paid for with public dollars allocated by the General Assembly in the budget, would pay for ABA for those not covered under insurance. Bill sponsor Sen. Ronnie Cromer (R- Newberry) says it would cost about $3 million.

"What we're trying to do is cover more of the autistic children that we can possibly cover," Cromer said.

But parents would rather the House bill, to mandate small group health plans cover autism treatment, pass. They voiced reasons against the Senate plan to WIS-TV.

"Well, one, it puts the responsibility back on the state. It's essentially another type of welfare program," parent Leslie Robinson said.

Only a couple of senators on this committee voted against it on Wednesday, so it advanced to be debated next on the full Senate floor.

"A vote in favor of this bill in my judgment is a vote against autistic families in this state," Sen. Tom Davis (R- Beaufort) said.

"The goal is that as we move children from Medicaid to private insurance, the pool on Medicaid gets lighter which enables the money there to go further," Robinson said.

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