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Autism — who pays?

July 15, 2008

Last Thursday, we ran two letters responding to the Times’ coverage of insurance companies’ policies autistic kids; both called on insurers to pony up. After the page went to print, we received these letters, which provide another point of view.

Business and insurers both argue that the buck, this time, shouldn’t stop with them.

Wrote Gary Toebben, CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce:

This article highlights the need for both a public and legislative consensus on comprehensive health care reform. As the Times reported, the costs of helping children with autism and people with other chronic disabilities are overwhelming. There must be sufficient regulation to assure adequate coverage of legitimate medical needs while at the same time addressing developmental, educational, and employment needs through other mechanisms. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce is a strong advocate for comprehensive health care reform. Our members cite the rising cost of health insurance as a major challenge to providing coverage to their employees. In light of this challenge, it is not appropriate to place the entire financial burden for health care costs onto insurers. This unsustainable approach will reduce access to care and drive up health care costs for everyone.Clearly we need a comprehensive dialogue that includes parents, government, educators, the medical community and business. Otherwise, the answer to: “Who Pays for Autism?” or any other chronic illness will not be acceptable to anyone.

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Chris Ohman, President and CEO, of the California Association of Health Plans, also wrote that the responsibility should be shared:

The Times’ article on coverage for autism treatment raises an important public policy question. With rapidly increasing rates of autism, more and more families are frustrated by a disjointed system of care and support. Health plans take seriously our commitment to cover medical interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder, which fits within a system of care that includes education and regional centers. We must all effectively coordinate our responsibilities to children and families. However, private health insurance has not and should not bear the sole responsibility of financing and providing all of the needed and valuable services. Even the Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission noted in Ms. Girion’s article noted a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities for providing various services. We need to have a thoughtful public policy discussion among all the parties involved.


Each week, Letters to the Editor receives thousands of e-mails, dozens of letters through the mail, and even a few faxes here and there.

After we cut out spam, obscene mail, letters addressed to more than one recipient, letters that seem to be the fruit of letter-writing campaigns and letters with attachments (which gum up our computer systems,) we usually are left with several hundred eligible items, from which we select the somewhere around 100 that get published in the newspaper.

Last week, we received more than 500 usable letters, 210 of which were in our Top Five Topics:Lettersplus_2

  • Obama: 55 letters, responding to no less than ten stories about the presidential candidate Barack Obama and his campaign;
  • FISA: 44 letters, reacting to news coverage of the Senate’s vote on wiretapping, and an Op-Ed written by former Clinton advisor Nancy Soderberg;
  • Helms: 39 letters, responding to coverage of the death of Sen. Jesse Helms (almost all disapproving of the politician);
  • Energy: 39 letters, responding to stories about oil, gas prices, and energy;
  • Drugs: 33 letters, responding the Op-Ed by David W. Fleming and James P. Gray, calling for a rethinking of the war on drugs.

Sen. John McCain, in a Letters Plus first, did not make the Top Five this week. But if early reaction to the Times’ story about his first marriage is any indication, he should be back next week.

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