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Denied! NY vetoes Autism Spectrum care

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Although 23 states have passed laws to end discrimination by health insurers against people with autism, NY Governor David Paterson has vetoed legislation that would require state-regulated health-insurance companies to cover "proven" treatments and therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder, claiming it would amount to an unfunded mandate.

This seems a clear admission that the Governor is powerless to compel Albany to budget for a law they just passed. The pursemasters are dictating to everyone in the state what can and cannot be publicly funded after unanimous, bi-partisan passage in both chambers. Had Paterson signed it, families with this common disorder may have been able to seek enforcement or redress through courts. But surveying the landscape of greed, corruption, apathy and obstruction, the exiting Gov just put the bill to a quick death himself.

The bill was heavily lobbied for and against, sponsored by State Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, Speaker Sheldon Silver and others. Opponents curiously said it would hurt people seeking treatment for autism because of the special "evidence-based, clinically proven and peer-reviewed" standard. They also bridled about potential flack from counties, taxpayers and the private for-profit insurers.

Paterson projected increases in state premiums that would be passed on to local governments and programs such as the Child Health Plus program, available to families not eligible for Medicaid. The cost of commercial health insurance would also rise, which threatens loss of coverage for some New Yorkers, Paterson said in the veto, missing a great opportunity to point out how health insurers didn't seem to mind raising premiums at all last year. Suddenly they seem alarmed at how tenuously so many customers are clinging to their current rates. Paterson's projected figures were immediately disputed by advocacy groups such as Autism Speaks.

Autism spectrum disorder occurs in approximately one out of 100 children, characterized by difficulty with speech and social interaction and repetitive behavior patterns in a wide range of symptoms and severity. Paterson expressed sympathies to affected families with a promise to advocate for them after leaving office.

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Existing state programs that provide early intervention for children with autism and other developmental disorders already require families to contribute to get needed service. Lost was the chance to aggregate services across the state to vastly expand scale in the sharing of resources and research, best practices and reducing duplication. This was also a time to help alleviate problems with school settings for kids with ASD. Parents and advocates know well the maze of educational bureaucracy, poor and limited choice, but as a NYC classroom teacher, I see many students that are haphazardly "mainstreamed' or left undiagnosed.

The governor also lamented that state health and insurance agencies would have to develop regulations for health insurers within one year and update them regularly, which they claimed they could not handle without more money. This spotlights how our lawmakers still fail to see opportunities to use the latest in medical, therapeutic or educational treatment to provide more effective solutions for kids with ASD than the current system of guesswork and patchwork which provides wasteful, mismatched and negligent educational services and gross denials for health and wellness needs.

A spokesman for Autism Speaks urged calls to Governor Paterson (518-474-8390) to express disappointment, citing the Governor's cost figures were more than double their estimates of $30 million, with only negligible increases to private premiums or costs to municipalities. Paterson is only the second US governor to veto autism legislation, following South Carolina's Mark Sanford whose veto was overridden in 2007.

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We also cannot forget the spin put on the issue by talk radio personalities who accused the autism community of inventing the disability and freeloading. But just as bad is the daily seeding of anti-government sentiment by top-rated media hosts which provides a narrative for obstructionists. They do have a point in looking at the failure of government, yet fail to acknowledge that they have been the biggest failures IN government, leading us into gridlock, criminal convictions and financial insolvency while allowing privatization of wealth that has set records for the history of mankind.

As our economic history dictates, every healthcare dollar used in prevention or early intervention pays for itself and then some, but this display of short-sightedness by the insurance companies, lobbyists, the backroom policymakers, the Governor and the propagandists in media would rather provide see-through excuses than industrious solutions.


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(OpEdNews Contributing Editor since October 2006) Inner city schoolteacher from New York, mostly covering media manipulation. I put election/finance reform ahead of all issues but also advocate for fiscal conservatism, ethics in journalism and (more...)

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