January 17, 2017 10:00 AM
Governor Deal signed Ava’s Law, which requires insurance coverage for several treatment methods used to treat autism in children, in April 2015. Like the medical cannabis issue, autism advocates worked tirelessly for years to achieve their goal, and Ava’s Law was a victory after a bruising session in 2014. The conversation about autism coverage is far from over, though, and Governor Deal seems intent on improving options for families across Georgia.
The thing about autism is that, while Ava’s Law ensures coverage for children younger than age six, it’s not the kind of thing that just clears up once a child hits first grade. In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Governor Deal stated,
In keeping with the desire to meet the health care needs of Georgians, I will work with the members of this legislature to enhance Medicaid and State Health Benefit Plan coverage for treatments of those diagnosed with autism up to the age of 21. I want to thank Senate Chairman Renee Unterman, House Chairman Sharon Cooper and House Subcommittee Chairman Katie Dempsey for working with us to ensure that we move forward in the proper manner on this issue as we take a deliberate and meaningful approach to this matter that touches so many hearts.
Early intervention in children younger than age six is absolutely critical when faced with an autism diagnosis – but continued therapy and support throughout the school years is just as essential, and losing coverage for these therapies the same time a child enters elementary school is a devastatingly costly prospect for Georgia families, as well as Georgia’s schools. For families in many states, coverage for older children has required a series of baby steps: Virginia approved a coverage mandate for children up to age six in 2011; in 2015, the Virginia House voted to increase coverage for kids up to age 10 (again, this is not a magic age for curing autism). Georgia seems headed down the same path, and with Governor Deal’s support, the journey this year will hopefully be smoother than past sessions.