Bill would mandate covering autism treatment

By Madalyn Gotschall, NewsNetNebraska

For University of Nebraska–Lincoln junior Kacie Kavanaugh, LB505 means that more people will be able to afford to receive treatment from her and her coworkers.

Kavanaugh has spent the last year working in Applied Behavioral Analysis as a therapist, a treatment program for autism that would be funded if Coash’s bill were to pass.

Applied Behavioral Analysis has put Kavanaugh directly in contact with autistic people and their families and said it has been a life changing experience.

“Before I started doing Applied Behavioral Analysis I did not have much background in autism, I kind of knew what it was, but not many details,” Kavanaugh said. “ABA made it real for me.”

Nebraska State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln is sponsoring LB505 requiring insurance coverage of autism spectrum disorders. The Centers for Disease Control define autism as developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

The CDC estimates that one in 88 children have autism spectrum disorder, and that 1 percent of children ages 3-7 in the United States have autism. This makes autism the fastest growing developmental disability.

Coash said something has to be done.

“Treatment can give a person with autism their life back,” Coash said.

Coash’s bill for a maximum of $70,000 of coverage per year for the first three years of treatment to pay for programs such as Applied Behavioral Analysis. The limit would then change to $20,000 per year until the insured turns 21.

Kavanaugh, the Marshal for her sorority Alpha Xi Delta, puts the statistics in relatable form when she thinks about the impact of autism.

“There are approximately 130 girls in my sorority alone, so potentially two people I know very closely are likely to have a child with autism,” Kavanaugh said. “There are approximately 24,600 students at UNL, so about 280 of their children will be diagnosed.”

Put like that, Kavanaugh said, the numbers hit home.

Alpha Xi Delta’s philanthropy, Autism Speaks, is something Kavanaugh is actively involved in.  Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. Since 2010, nationally the Alpha Xi Delta sorority has raised over one million dollars.

Their next benefit is a Fiesta Feed next Thursday, March 14, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The event features unlimited nachos, music and raffles throughout the night.  The event is at the Alpha Xi Delta house, 1619 R St. Tickets are $5 at the door or $4 beforehand. All benefits go to Autism Speaks.

But Coash’s bill isn’t universally supported.

Ron Sedlacek, representing the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry said their main concern is cost.

“We want to keep insurance plans offered to employees affordable,” Sedlacek said. “There is too much in the air right now.”

Coash said cost shouldn’t be a major factor after 32 other states in the U.S. have a mandate for autism treatment.

“We can use that data to forecast cost,” Coash said.

For Kavanaugh, she hopes the bill goes through, making treatment programs such as Applied Behavioral Analysis possible. She said she has witnessed the program make a difference to peoples’ lives, and even recognizes the impact it had on her own.

“It’s made me a better person in general and taught me more than any classroom ever could,” Kavanaugh said. “I do Applied Behavioral Analysis because I know I’m making a difference.”

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