Proposed Alabama bill could help cover autism care costs - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Proposed Alabama bill could help cover autism care costs

The Suggs family helps their daughter, Marlee, with her autism therapy. (Source: WAFF) The Suggs family helps their daughter, Marlee, with her autism therapy. (Source: WAFF)
(WAFF) -

Our state lawmakers are on spring break, but many families depending on them don't get that break. They are families impacted by autism.

A bill that's basically sitting in limbo in the legislature could mean all the difference for them, mandating insurance companies to cover therapy for their children. However, cost versus care could derail everything.

7-year-old Marlee Suggs is sitting around the dinner table running through shapes and colors. It is part of her therapy for autism.

On the other end, not a licensed therapist but her own mother, Janica Suggs.

"We do math together. She's learning to read. She's capable of lots of things and has become so much more independent since we've started all her therapies," said Suggs.

She's taken on the role of both mother and therapist simply because of cost.

"If we got her the amount they recommend, it would be over $50,000 a year," said Suggs.

Instead, they can only afford to pay for a licensed therapist to give Marlee two hours of therapy a month at a cost of $700.

Yet, the Suggs family in Athens is not unique. They're one of about 50,000 families throughout the state of Alabama crossing their fingers that state lawmakers will do something to help them.

It may come down to House Bill 284 calling for insurance companies to cover it under basic coverage.

Critics say the cost will be passed on to taxpayers hitting their premiums.

However, Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Patterson believes the cost will come one way or the other.

"If we get these children early and get them the proper training, a lot of them will turn out to be productive citizens and taxpayer citizens rather than taking money to take care of them," said Patterson.

Alabama is now one of only four states that do not mandate health insurance coverage for specialized behavioral therapy.

House Insurance Committee Chairman Rich Kerry said he's looking for compromise. In a statement, he said in part, "It is a matter of how far we go in providing insurance coverage with some type of responsible limits that will not be an undue burden on business and policy holders."

Patterson is defending his bill.

"If you get the pool of insurance like it is now, it will hold the cost down where it will be reasonable," he said. "This is not going to hurt companies. They can afford a dollar a month per employee."

Meanwhile, Suggs will continue to speak for those with autism like Marlee.

"If lawmakers or people in general don't see them as capable, then they don't see the urgency of giving them these tools so they can be independent. To me, it would be so much better for them to be independent, work a job, make money, go out and buy things, then it would for them to live in a state-funded home. Either way, they are going to pay," said Suggs.

The following statement is from Nancy Barnes, president of the board of directors for the Autism Society of Alabama:

The autism community is waiting on a committee vote on HB284. HB284 is in the House Insurance Committee. Rep. Kerry Rich, Chairman of this committee can call a vote for HB284. Speaker Mac McCutcheon from our area can also encourage Rep Rich to call a vote. We would appreciate a vote on the autism insurance bill. Alabama is one of 5 states that has not passed this legislation. Our representatives were elected to serve their constituents not large corporate special interests. Many citizens have contacted their representatives concerning advocacy for this bill.  A vote to send this bill to the House floor would give this bill a chance.

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