Ground Gained in Autism Insurance Laws

Little Star Center Executive Director Mary Rosswurm’s guest column, “Ground Gained in Autism Insurance Laws”, appeared in the April 30, 2012 issue of the Journal & Courier, Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana.  It is reprinted below.

Every family wants the best for their children. That desire is even stronger when parents learn their child has autism.

Thankfully, we live in a state that understands that the best treatment for this fast-growing neurological disorder shouldn’t be limited to those who can afford it.

As we recognize National Autism Awareness Month, I believe it’s important to acknowledge the groundbreaking efforts in Indiana to pass a law requiring health insurers, with some exceptions, to cover intensive therapy for autism, regardless of age or time in treatment. 

This mandate — passed in 2001, five years before any other state – reaffirms that autism is a medical diagnosis that requires treatment just like any other health issue.  More importantly, many Hoosier families have more autism therapy options for their children without the added stress of struggling to cover costs.

Indiana  families are in a unique group, as 27 of the 28 other states with autism health insurance mandates cap the amount of annual treatment a person can receive, as well as the age of the person being treated.  Massachusetts passed a similar law to Indiana’s in 2011.

Indiana’s Health Insurance Mandate for Autism Spectrum Disorders and Pervasive Developmental Disorders law increases access to proven successful therapy such as applied behavior analysis, once limited to those who could afford to pay out of pocket.  This therapy is a highly researched approach to teaching children with autism appropriate social, communication and life skills critical to helping them lead productive lives.

Little Star Center was the first center to offer applied behavior analysis when it opened in 2002. Ten families enrolled, with all paying the treatment costs personally.  Enrollment has increased steadily at both the Carmel and Lafayette facilities; the Lafayette center opened in 2011.

The treatment cost for nearly all those enrolled is covered by health insurance. Our enrollment now includes families from diverse economic backgrounds, thanks to Indiana’s mandate.

Each day, we celebrate with our families as their son or daughter achieves success through this proven therapy. Our accomplishment feels even more complete knowing that many of those enrolled would have been unable to benefit from this treatment if not for Indiana’s law.

Yes, there are restrictions to the law. Self-insured companies and employers not based in Indiana are not required to follow the mandate. Medicaid and Hoosier Healthwise are not required to follow the mandate, either.

Although it’s not a perfect system, more families now have access to effective and research-based treatments that were once out of reach.

This accomplishment alone sends a powerful message to families that Indiana stands with them in their search for the best autism treatment for their child, period.

Mary Rosswurm is executive director of Little Star Centers in Carmel and Lafayette.  She serves on the Indiana Commission for Autism and is mother of a young adult with autism.