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My Turn: Autism treatment is a right being shortchanged by insurance

You probably know someone with autism – a child, student, nephew, neighbor. Autism is a communication/behavioral disorder that makes it hard for a person to connect with others without a great deal of strain. People with autism are intelligent, but as my autistic brother once said, “Autism is a different way of seeing the world.” Unfortunately, that “different way of seeing” creates huge challenges for the person with autism.

The good news is that treatment for autism has come a long way, and there is clear evidence that certain kinds of treatment really work.

Research has shown that treatment for autism is effective, especially if we provide intervention early in a child’s life. That treatment helps with communication, relationships, behavior and learning. It tremendously improves quality of life!

Based on sound research, two years ago the New Hampshire Legislature passed a law requiring health insurance companies to cover treatment for autistic children.

Some of New Hampshire’s health insurance carriers have stepped up to the plate. Others have not. They are denying claims for petty reasons, being unhelpful to families inquiring about their benefits and setting rates so low that they have an inadequate network of providers who can afford to offer services. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for these youngsters.

I encourage families who are having trouble accessing services to which they have a legal right under the new law to contact the state Department of Insurance and make the roadblocks known. That may be what it takes to achieve the autism treatment success our law intended.

The Insurance Department’s consumer hotline is 800-852-3416. Don’t be afraid to call. They are good folks, and without hearing from you they cannot intervene with insurance companies.

It’s too late for my brother Ed to benefit from the passage of this bill because he’s now a middle-aged adult, and that saddens me. But it’s not too late for those little 2-year-olds out there.

The Legislature did its part recently by passing legislation requiring insurance payment for treatment. Now it’s up to all insurance carriers to respond ethically.

It shouldn’t take families under stress with a child who needs help to hold corporations’ feet to the fire. But the reality is it may take a teaming up of parents and the Insurance Department and perhaps Gov. Maggie Hassan in order to get our children with autism the help they need and deserve.

(Ellie Stein lives in Concord.)

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