2 proposed bills would offer resources to Utahns with autism spectrum disorders

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah State Senate gave a different reception to two bills aimed at helping parents of children diagnosed with autism.

Jake and Melyssa Smith are counting on one of the bills for their son's continuing treatment and for their family's financial health.

The Smith's lost nearly everything to pay for treatment for their son, Cohen, before they got help from a Medicaid program one year ago. Their younger son, Max, has Aspergers and also requires therapy.

"We claimed bankruptcy,” Melyssa Smith said. “We lost our home last year, so that we could provide for school for Cohen and for therapy. We were at the end of our rope. We had nothing left.”

House Bill 88, sponsored by Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-District 1, passed a second reading in the Senate with ease. Menlove's bill would extend the pilot program created two years ago. It funds therapy for the Smiths and about 300 families of children with autism. It also continues a state policy of funding autism treatment in insurance for state employees.

Menlove said the program has worked well enough to warrant the extension.

"This body passed that bill two years ago,” Menlove said. “They now can see the benefits of their investments, and so we're making that case very strongly.”

Senate Bill 57 is more ambitious, making it mandatory for private insurers to cover autism treatment.

Insurance companies have fought the measure, saying it would increase rates for everyone only to provide treatments that are not always effective.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-District 8, said that's not true. He said autism coverage is required in 34 states already.

"What we've seen is no significant change by any insurance commissioner in any of the 34 states," Shiozawa said.

SB 57 didn't make it to a vote on Wednesday, because they ran out of time for debate, but it's likely to be heard in a Thursday vote. Shiozawa expects to get through the Senate, but he's uncertain about the House.

Shiozawa used a common phrase for lawmakers trying to do something difficult: "This bill is heavy lifting."


  • Courtney B

    Thanks for sharing your story with everyone and educating Utah on the full affects Autism can have on a family. It’s time our legislature take a stand to help the Autism community get the proper coverage because profitable insurance will never do this on their own acord. It’s sad they need to be forced to do the right thing, but it’s necessary.

  • Qwerty57

    Thank goodness for both of these bills. It’s too bad that insurance companies have to be regulated, but they have failed to address this issue for far too long at the expense of taxpayers and Utah families. Utah’s autism families paying their premiums every month are covering mandated medical care for conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular care, cancer treatment and many other medical ailments from which they do not suffer, but when their time of need arises for health care for their kids they are left in the cold. The data is so clear this will not break the bank or cause significant premium increases and doing nothing is causing thousands of families to either forego proven medical treatment for their children or experience financial devastation. Thank you Senator Shiozawa and Representative Menlove for taking a stand on this important issue.

  • Adrian

    Prayers this morning for all of the families who just want to help their family members with autism to be able to get what they need in order to have the best life possible. Everyone deserves to be heard.

    Without effective early intervention and therapies for autism, we are shamefully and wrongly limiting human beings. It’s like denying sign language and/or hearing aids to someone who is hard of hearing or worse.

    Come on, Utah. Please respect and value these wonderful lives. Please do not place the entire, crippling burden on desperate families and school districts. Responsible parents who have purchased health insurance for their children need your support. Coverage for autism therapies must be prioritized above other conditions that are currently being covered.

    If you do not support these families, you are supporting limiting the potential of these children- who deserve to thrive. If you do not support these families, there are huge financial consequences later on for taxpayers, as well as placing huge burdens on school districts right now. This is a team effort that no one entity can accomplish on their own.

    If you do not support these families, you are putting them in a horrible financial situation. If they are like my family, they will prioritize their children with autism above things like their own retirement and daily comfort. Any parent worth their salt will sacrifice everything for their kids. Heartbreakingly, it’s not enough. Most families cannot come up with 60K a year for medical treatment. Yes, it truly costs that much for basic treatment.

    Please…do the right thing. Do not allow any more families to go through the hell of not being able to help their children thrive. Support these families who just need to know that their kids will be ok if anything happens to them. Please.

  • Gina Baker

    Absolutely a worthy cause to support. The state would not have to mandate this if insurers would step up to the plate and cover this medical diagnosis- as others are covered. This early treatment absolutely affects these kids for the rest of their lives and every delay negatively impacts thousands of kids. Come on Utah!

  • Jen Crocker

    Thank you to the Smith Family for sharing their story, it’s not an easy road that’s for sure. My heart goes out to them and other families who are faced with the same challenges and Thank You to Senator Shiozawa and Representative Menlove for their legislation.

  • Cari Brown

    I’m so happy to see an autism insurance mandate proposed once again. Without it, children have almost no access to proper care. Bills like these help children with autism grow up to be independent adults (aka Taxpayers).

  • Jake Smith

    Thank you all for your kind comments. We like most of you have gone through the ringer and yet it’s only been three and a half years since Cohen was diagnosed. I would imagine that with all we have spent in the last three years we could have gone to Hawaii, London, and even to a really nice restaurant. We could have bought a really nice car. But those are the things you give up when you have a child with autism.

    I hope the legislators understand the severity of autism in this state. These are wonderful children with beautiful smiles and personalities and they need help. They need ABA therapy which has proven to help these children. It won’t be long until you see us on the freeway ramp with a sign that says “I have two children with autism, I have lost our home. We need help”. And honestly, I have considered doing that.

    Thank you Senator Shiozawa for sponsoring this bill and to Rep Menlove for continuing the Autism Program.

  • cassie

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Beautifully written. There are so many of us counting on these bills o that we can afford to live and provide for our children while being able to afford desperately needed therapies for our children on the spectrum!

  • Becky

    Thanks to the Smith family for sharing their story! It is so important to pass this legislation, especially the insurance reform. This early intervention is crucial for these kids. This will make a huge difference to many Utah children. My insurance has an autism exclusion….it won’t cover any diagnosis or treatment. I hope this is the year that will change!

  • Evelyn

    Great story. The Smith family sounds amazing and dedicated, and families like that definitely deserve to have insurance coverage! This is a bill worth passing, and I hope and pray that the legislators see the importance of it!! Children with autism are children, first and foremost. They are individuals capable and loveable and worthy!

  • Steffani

    Thanks for sharing this story. It is a good example of the struggles many families have gone through with no insurance coverage. These kids can be helped and can grow up to function in and contribute to society. It’s time for Utah to step up to the plate and make that happen!

  • Christie pease

    I have a grandson on the Medicaid pilot program and because of this program and his improvements they can now actually take him to dinner with them and he is now communicating with us. I would be devastated if they did away with this program or don’t pass these bills to help these kids and their families. Please make it happen!!!

  • James S. Vaughan

    The power of the initiatives of Representative Menlove and Senator Shiozawa go far beyond the individuals having access to these treatments, it also goes to the families that are sacrificing homes, jobs and too often marriages. It is time that our state steps up to the plate and provides this solution that makes such a profound difference in the lives of Utahns. Kudos to Rep. Menlove and Sen. Shiozawa for taking on this stand for our children!

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