Highmark Has A Hand In Your Health, Unless You Are Autistic

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Highmark wants to have a greater hand in your health care -- as long as you don't have autism.

While the autism community across Pennsylvania has attempted, for the past five years, to encourage Highmark to cover services for children with autism spectrum disorders, Highmark has remained steadfast in its decision to specifically exclude them.

Advocates and several key legislators put forth legislation to change that. House Bill 1150 introduced by House Speaker Dennis M. O'Brien would provide up to $36,000 per year in private insurance coverage for services and treatments.

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Highmark's decision to discriminate became even more solidified last week when they issued bulletin V-37-006 under "Limitations of Coverage" that now states a specific exclusion for "autistic disease of childhood."

"As soon as we introduced the bill this year, Highmark issued this bulletin," said Cindy Waeltermann, advocate, parent of two children with autism and Director of AutismLink, a nationwide autism support organization headquartered in Pittsburgh. "It is clearly an attempt to block our efforts to stop the discrimination of individuals with autism."

Jim Bouder, Lancaster County advocate, author of the legislation and parent to an 11-year-old son with autism is outraged. "This is clearly a case of the big guy holding his foot on the neck of the little guy. To illustrate the concepts of 'injustice' and 'oppression,' you don't have to look overseas. Look no further than Highmark's treatment of autistic customers. Sadly, they do so with the blessing of several key members of the state senate's Banking & Insurance and Appropriations committees. The public needs to send both Highmark and the legislature a clear message that these practices that effectively silence some of our most vulnerable citizens are unjust, discriminatory and must end."

Pennsylvania State Senator Jane Clare Orie, Chair of the Senate Autism Caucus and sponsor of the Senate companion bill to HB 1150 agrees. "Scientific research has made great strides in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders and in helping to identify treatments which deliver effective long term improvements. We now know that treatment is more effective when delivered to young children. Highmark is being short-sighted about the need for and public benefit of insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders."

"It's time for Highmark to buck up and pay for innocent children who have a devastating disability," said Cindy Waeltermann. "Their slick advertising campaigns want us to believe that they care about our health -- but that's only true if you don't have a disability. In that case, you're a liability to them written off by an official bulletin."

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