On Wednesday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed seven pieces of legislation into law, including a bill that requires health insurers to cover the treatment of children with autism.

On Wednesday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed seven pieces of legislation into law, including a bill that requires health insurers to cover the treatment of children with autism.

The autism bill requires coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in children younger than 9. Under the measure, the children would have access to applied behavior analysis for up to 25 hours a week with a limit of $25,000 a year.

Autism spectrum disorder affects how a person processes sensory information and their ability to interact and relate to others. Until now, Oklahoma is one of only seven states in the nation that did not require insurers to cover autism.

The measure passed in the House last week –– 65-26.

Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, proposed the bill.

Sen. Ron Sharp said he voted for the legislation.

“Having been a school teacher for 38 years, I recognize these autistic children are trainable and can be helped to become productive citizens,” Sharp said. “This legislation provides for that assistance.”

He said Oklahoma will either provide this assistance on the front end or may be forced to provide for these children on the back end as adults.

“Should there be a adverse effect on insurance premiums to provide this assistance, the legislation is voided,” Sharp added.

Tara Hood, of Guthrie, said the measure isn't breaking the bank, it's just asking insurance industry to do what it's supposed to do.

Hood has two children with autism.

She said some autistic children require intensive one-on-one therapy.

“But not all kids need that level of care,” Hood said.

“If we don't take care of these kids now, they will be so much more dependent later,” she said.

Currently, most states –– including the ones surrounding Oklahoma –– provide some kind of coverage, making a leap across the border a little easier to stomach.

Some have already chosen that route –– whether it's a family trying to afford care for an autistic child or a behavioral health care professional unable to make a living here.

Beverly Woodfin and her family moved to Texas in October 2014 –– choosing a state that had a mandate for autism care.

“When we left, initially, we were only going to stay away until Oklahoma insurance covered services,” she said. “We aren't planning to come back now. We have established ourselves where there are lots of services, great perks and great therapists.”

She said there aren't nearly enough therapists in Oklahoma.

“They can't make it there right now,” she said.

Deborah Renfroe, a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) –– who grew up and practiced in Oklahoma –– left last summer for Arizona. She said her whole family was uprooted so she could find adequate clientele.

“I was born and raised in Oklahoma –– owned a home and had friends –– our kids had friends there. We were hoping to stay there forever,” she said.

“Quite a few of us had to leave the state,” Renfroe said.

She said there is very low opportunity in Oklahoma.

“Without the insurance mandate, we can't bill insurance companies. The only company in Oklahoma we could bill was Tricare –– a military health care provider. Other than that, it leaves us with only people who can pay out of pocket.”

“I do hope to come back, but I can't until I can get paid as I do here,” she said. “Oklahoma offers about half of what I can earn in other states,” she said.

Renfroe said she guesses Oklahoma has some fear that it would drive up the cost of insurance.

“Other states have already proven that it doesn't. It would help the state,” she said. “Oklahoma needs this.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that an average of one in 68 children have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

 

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