Friday, June 08, 2007

The Greenville News

Lawmakers restore coverage for autistic kids
House, Senate unanimously override Sanford veto of bill requiring insurance for disorder

Published: Friday, June 8, 2007 - 2:00 am
By Liv Osby

The South Carolina House stood and applauded Thursday after voting 114-0 to override Gov. Mark Sanford's veto of a bill requiring insurance coverage for autistic children.

Earlier, the Senate voted to override as well, and advocates called it "a momentous day" for children with autism and their families.

"I'm just so pleased that our General Assembly voted to override the governor's veto," said Marcella Ridley, a Columbia mother of an autistic child. "It took away all the nightmares of the last 24 hours."

"How often has there been a unanimous override in the House and the Senate?" said Dr. Desmond Kelly, medical director of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Greenville Hospital System's Children's Hospital. "The legislators were clear in their support, and that's great."

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the Legislature exercised its prerogative.

"We laid out our reasons for vetoing the bill and felt they were compelling," he said. "Obviously, the Legislature disagreed. But that's the nature of the process."

Autism is a spectrum of developmental disorders that afflicts about 1.5 million Americans, about 9,000 of them in the Palmetto State. Intensive early intervention helps roughly half of all autistic children succeed in school and hold down jobs as adults, avoiding more costly special education classes and institutions.

Since it can cost more than $50,000 a year, many families can't afford it or go into debt to finance it. But beginning in July 2008, insurance will be required to pay for up to $50,000 a year of the therapy for children under 16.

In his veto message, Sanford said the mandate would raise the quality of insurance for families with autistic children, "but doing so would correspondingly increase the cost, and consequently lower the access to health insurance, for many other families across our state."

Sanford said the bill would add $10.5 million in costs to the State Health Plan next year and about $48 a year to premiums paid by other families. But Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, said those numbers are too high and that the state stands to save millions that it spends on lifetime institutionalization of autistic adults by investing in early intervention.

"These folks are headed to institutionalization unless there's early intervention," Thomas said. "Just in terms of money, we're talking hundreds of millions of dollars that will be saved over time."


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