W.Va. Autism Forum Aims to Unite Parents, Insurers

Article excerpt

Advocates of children with autism hope a July 13 summit at Stonewall Jackson Resort will help West Virginians make the most of the state's new law requiring some insurance coverage for their treatment.

The Lewis County round table event aims to unite parents, care providers, insurers and others so families can learn about, obtain and then use this coverage, said organizer Susannah Poe.

"There are all sorts of questions from all sides," Poe said. "The goal is easier access for everyone."

After years of debate, legislation enacted in 2011 calls on both public and private insurers to extend coverage for applied behavioral analysis, a treatment considered crucial for many children with these neurological disorders. An autism diagnosis can fall within a spectrum of conditions that range from mild to severe and can involve impaired thinking, feeling, speaking and the ability to relate to others.

Poe cites figures estimating that one in 100 West Virginia children have an autism spectrum disorder, slightly higher than the national frequency. Autism, the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., is more common than childhood cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and Down Syndrome combined, Poe said.

As awareness and screening efforts improve, the number of West Virginia schoolchildren identified with autism has nearly quadrupled since the 2001-02 year to 1,474 in 2011-12, according to the state Department of Education.

West Virginia is among 31 states to mandate at least some coverage for this treatment, according to the advocacy group Autism Speaks. Alaska recently became the latest state to join that fold, while Delaware appears poised to follow suit, the group said. Other coverage states include neighboring Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Poe is both a nationally certified provider of applied behavioral analysis treatment and a licensed psychologist. She said the summit could start a lasting coalition to help the insurance mandate operate as smoothly as possible.

"Many of the families that I talk to have no idea that there is autism insurance available," Poe said. …