AUSTIN (KXAN) - Texas is aiming to save thousands of dollars in annual out of-pocket therapy bills for families with children coping with autism spectrum disorder.
If Gov. Rick Perry signs the legislation, the new law will compel insurance companies who offer policies in Texas to keep paying for certain treatments after a child turns ten, right through age 18.
They cover speech therapies and occupational therapies like handwriting skills up to $36,000 a year. But for about half of Texas families who could use the help, there is no coverage for more expensive treatments like one known as Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA.
That's a problem for parents like Austin's Jacquie Benestante whose 8-year-old son Nolan undergoes three and a half hours of ABA therapy a week at Spark Learning , a local education center.
"He does social skills there and it's really social-emotional learning, language development," she said.
The family pays about $400 a month for the therapy. Benestante's husband, who's an Austin firefighter, must work overtime to pay for it. The City's group policy does not cover the therapy.
"So we're still left out, we're still paying out-of-pocket for the most effective therapy. Unfortunately, she said. "And that has not changed (with the amended law). There's needs to be more legislation to close that loophole."
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, sponsored the most recent bill.
"Senate Bill 1484, my autism coverage bill, was the result of hard work over several legislative sessions," Watson said. "It will ensure that more kids can get the autism treatment they need.
"But Texas can still do better in terms of making sure more parents and kids can access needed autism services and more insurance carriers provide that coverage. The costs of doing nothing are becoming clearer and clearer -- taxpayers save money when children receive treatment at a young age, before these symptoms grow into adult-sized problems."
But Nolan's parents, like many will have to continue to pay out-of-pocket for the specialized treatment. They're the lucky ones, since Nolan doesn't need as much help as other kids do.
"I have some families that get 30-40 hours a week of therapy. The average cost of that could be 120-thousand dollars a year, said Jason Farrell an area insurance broker whose clients include families with autistic children.
Farrell said it's the often most viable option since treatment for autistic children can go on well into their teen years.
"It breaks my heart when families can't afford it and they can't get the coverage they need because I know it'll help," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that one in 88 American children have some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
It's estimated 98,000 Texan children are affected. Boys are four to five times more likely to have the disorder.
Parents with one child with ASD have a 5-10 percent chance of having another child with ASD.
The Autism Society of Greater Austin is a local resource parents can access online. It offers links to other providers and support organizations.
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