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Autism Legislation Could Bring Relief to Thousands of Ohio Families

PHOTO: Picture of Marla Root at a Statehouse conference introducing the new legislation.
PHOTO: Picture of Marla Root at a Statehouse conference introducing the new legislation.
November 13, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Relief could be coming to families in Ohio who struggle to pay for adequate care and services needed for individuals with autism. Bills introduced in the Ohio House and Senate would clarify that autism spectrum disorders should be covered under the state's Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 and would include autism as a basic health care need to be covered by health insurers in the state.

Marla Root, co-chair of the public policy committee of the Autism Society of Ohio, says many families spend tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket so their children have access to critical care and therapy.

"It's not easy to get help; families are exhausted. They are worn out. They do not know what else to do. Families are battling, getting access to health care. This should not be happening."

Thirty-two states, including all others in the Midwest, have enacted legislation requiring state-regulated health plans to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorders. Critics have argued that amending the statute will cause insurance premiums to skyrocket, but Root says evidence from other states shows the average cost increase is 31 cents per member per month. To further protect insurers, she says, House Bill 598 and Senate Bill 381 provide for annual maximum dollar caps for benefit coverage.

The past four decades have seen a 1000-percent increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, affecting one in 88 individuals. But the disorders are treatable, and Root says early intervention is critical to future success for those with autism. Because most families lack the proper training and supports to care for their loved ones, Root says, there may be bad outcomes for the individual and the community.

"Some of those individuals are being put into maybe very costly residential placements, or may be getting in trouble with the law. Once they are in the juvenile justice system, they cost taxpayers, as well."

Root points out that, besides helping those affected by autism spectrum disorders, expanding coverage and offering more services and therapies will also spur jobs that will create revenue opportunities for Ohio.

"Our state has great supports and clinicians and professionals, and we need to attract more of those individuals here. So it's also an industry that I think needs to grow, because there's a need for it to grow."

More information on the bills is available at

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH