In the midst of the ongoing drama, starring the governor, that is Illinois politics and a source of national entertainment, it is truly remarkable that monumental legislative acts affecting the lives of thousands of families of children with special needs in our state can be passed. Two bills that directly impact insurance coverage for children with special needs received overwhelming bipartisan support in Springfield just prior to publication of this issue.
Illinois Senate Bill 934 has now been enacted into law, and with any luck, by the time you read this, Senate Bill 101 will be, too. If this important bill somehow does not become law, we must all join together to make it happen.
Both bills require private health insurance to cover children’s physician-prescribed disability-related treatment plans for children, including speech and language, occupational, physical and behavioral therapies.
Special children need this support. Parents need this support. Raising children with special needs is difficult enough. Finding doctors who accurately diagnose and prescribe appropriate therapies is only the beginning of the journey. Paying for those therapies without the support of insurance can turn challenges into nightmares.
The main difference between the bills is that SB-934 focuses on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, while SB-101 includes children with all types of congenital and early onset neurological disorders. Though the bills seem to overlap, they are both necessary.
We needed SB-934 to ensure coverage for the uniquely intense therapies that are required for children with autism to maximize their potential. Children with ASD need special protections, but they only make up 5 percent of the pediatric special needs population. Now we need SB-101 to protect the needs of the 95 percent of kids with afflictions ranging from cerebral palsy and other motor disorders to language and cognitive disabilities to those with sensory impairments and genetic conditions.
The Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has spearheaded the effort to ensure that all children with neurological disorders get appropriate medical services that are protected by law. Enacting both of these bills now will catapult Illinois to the forefront of nationwide initiatives promoting the health and treatment of our country’s special children.
Practically speaking, these bills will be crucial for the many families in Illinois who, especially in this recession, cannot afford to get their children the services they need. Parents agonize over cutting corners in their children’s treatment plans because they do not have the funds to continue essential early therapies. Since these interventions can cost tens of thousands of dollars each year, some parents have no choice but to forgo them and instead sacrifice a window of opportunity for the brain to become better wired for their child to function at a higher level.
Appropriate medical intervention for children with brain disorders begun at an early age significantly alters outcomes in adulthood. Treatment can affect an individual’s capacity to function independently, learn, engage with others in meaningful relationships and, hopefully, secure a job. Providing appropriate therapy is both morally the right thing to do and it makes economic sense.
We need these bills so that Illinois parents will have the capacity to provide the care that their children need. And Illinois will become a better, more caring place, a shining example for the rest of the country to emulate rather than just being the target of its ridicule.
Now, more than ever, is a really good time for us to make that happen.