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September 22, 2008

Governor Blagojevich Calls Special Session to Help Children with Autism Access Healthcare Coverage
Special Session marks the Governor’s Third Attempt since Spring Session to Provide Healthcare Options for Children with Autism

CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich called a second special session of the General Assembly for today to discuss and act on a bill to expand health insurance coverage for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Thousands of children in Illinois have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and families often have to cover the cost of treatment for children with autism using personal funds because their insurance won't cover it. “Today I call the General Assembly into special session, because children with autism should not have to wait another year, or another legislative session to get the healthcare they need,” said Governor Blagojevich. “Illinois families work too hard to have to devote such a large portion of their income to their children’s treatment. With this proposed change, Illinois’ children with autism can get needed therapies and services to help their development into adulthood.” This special session marks the Governor’s third attempt since the spring session to pass language to ensure healthcare coverage for children with autism. The language stalled multiple times in the Illinois House when legislators put process before people. The original bill, Senate Bill 1900, did not pass the General Assembly despite broad bipartisan support. When that bill failed, the Governor used his amendatory veto power to add this language to two pieces of legislation; both amendatory vetoes died in the House. “Earlier this month, the Illinois House failed to accept my amendatory vetoes which would have ordered insurance companies to cover diagnosis, therapies, and services for children with autism. I hope that legislators will consider the families in need, and not make this mistake again,” Governor Blagojevich continued. Proposed language requires insurance companies to cover up to $36,000 a year and an unlimited number of doctor visits for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders until age 21. Insurance policies would be required to cover autism diagnosis, occupational therapy, physical and speech therapy, psychiatric and psychological services and applied behavioral therapies. In order to move legislation forward, the Governor today urged the House and Senate to amend this language into an existing bill and pass the bill to the other chamber today. One bill that could be amended is Senate Bill 871, which is currently awaiting third reading in the Senate. The House also has the option of passing House Bill 415, sponsored by State Senator James DeLeo (D-Chicago), which was amended in August to add the autism language and is already sitting in the Illinois House. “Together our leaders including our Governor, our Speaker and our Senate President came together to build a model facility to serve 200 young people. Now we have the opportunity with the insurance industry’s blessing to again be a leader and give access to 11,000 children with autism by giving them access to vital health care through insurance. Care that will empower parents to give their children access to proper diagnosis, treatment and therapy so that our kids can be independent and fulfilled. Let’s end the discrimination as other states have already done and let’s come together and lead!” said Peter Dicianni, lead advocate for this legislation, and whose insurance does not cover his daughter’s Brianna treatment for autism. The Governor joined advocates at the Easter Seals Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research to urge legislators to act on crucial legislation for families of children with autism. The school is a one of a kind facility with a cutting edge research component, complemented by work conducted at University of Illinois-Chicago and Rush Medical Hospital, to develop successful treatments and interventions that can be utilized in each child’s individual education plan. “The Governor has been a great supporter not only of education for children with autism but also of the Easter Seals Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research. This legislation is vital not only for the 200 families that we serve, but also the 11,000 families of children with autism in Illinois. Many of these families cannot afford these therapies that are crucial to their children’s development, and having this insurance coverage will allow them greater access to vital speech, occupational and physical therapies,” said Tim Muri, President and CEO, Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago. Currently, only Illinoisans in large group insurance policies (50 or more beneficiaries) can get coverage for children with autism, and even then can only get inpatient and outpatient mental health services. The proposed change will require all insurance policies to cover costs for diagnosis and the therapies children with autism need to improve their communication and social skills, and live independent lives. “Because our insurance company does not cover the treatment my son needs, our family had to invest all of our savings into his development. Everyday that I see my son’s progress I know that our investment was worth it, but I also know that other families should not have to go through the financial nightmare we have had. I thank the Governor for his continued commitment to passing this crucial legislation that will help families like mine across the state,” said Dena Seidenfuss, mother of a son with autism. "Every story I hear about a family struggling to pay for treatment for their child with autism, I am reminded how crucial this legislation is. We must find a way to help these families now. I share the Governor's commitment to these families and will work to get legislation passed," said Senator DeLeo. "As children with autism develop, they need special care and attention in order to lead independent lives. Unfortunately many parents are forced to pay for this expensive care out of pocket because their insurance companies will not cover the costs. Let's get something done for these parents now," said State Representative Angelo "Skip" Saviano. While the underlying cause of autism is unknown, medical experts agree that early intervention helps affected children improve their communication and social skills, enabling them to live independent lives, and in many cases, be indistinguishable from their peers. Children who do not receive appropriate intervention have a less than two percent chance of living a normal life.


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