Families with autistic children could find the relief they need in the form of the Affordable Care Act.Joshua Lott/Reuters
The health care world has seen much debate concerning a divide between mental disorders and physical illnesses -- and the extent to which both are covered by insurance providers. Susan Parish at Brandeis University offers a paradigm of this discussion by focusing extensively on the complicated, and often expensive, relationship between autism and treatment coverage. Fortunately, it appears the care of autism has the chance of becoming more accessible and less costly due to the newly-passed Affordable Care Act -- that is, if states comply.
To understand the issues at hand, it's probably best to review our general understanding of autism. First and foremost, autism is a neural development disorder. It alters the organization of neural cells and their synapses, leading to differences in information processing. In terms of symptoms, autism is most well-known for causing difficulties in social interaction as well as the performance of repetitive -- and often ritual -- behavior. But the disorder is not only limited to association with intellectual disabilities, according to Autism Speaks. Problems with sleep and gastrointestinal issues can also be present.
When will families with autistic members be able to get the care they need-- and where will they be able to afford it?
Although these symptoms are well-catalogued and the ability to detect the disorder early has improved, autism still faces two challenging-- and uncertain-- variables: its cause and its cure.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, both genetics and environmental factors contribute to the development of autism. Although a number of different genes have been identified as responsible for at least some part of the disorder, their internal interactions are complex and are not well understood.
While no known cure for autism exists, the research by Parish suggests that the care and management of autism might be more pressing for the time being -- and much more deserving of reform.
As Parish's report indicates, there are still various options available in the care of autism (despite the lack of a definitive cure). Therapy and behavioral interventions can be used to target specific symptoms and are often tailored to each child's individual needs. If implemented early on, intensive therapy -- which can include skill oriented training instruction-- helps to better the patient's social and verbal skills. And in addition to these interventions, doctors will sometimes to turn to medications, such as anti-depressants and stimulants.
But as the study points out, the cost of these services and prescriptions can get problematically steep -- and it all depends on location.
That's where parity laws come into play. In essence, parity was created to counteract discrimination in coverage for different illnesses. It requires that insurers or health care service plans provide the same level of benefits for mental illnesses and substance abuse as they do for physical problems.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 is a federal parity mandate, concluding that if states are to offer mental health treatment, they have to be at parity level. But according to Sarah Steverman, Director of State Policy at Mental Health America, there is an important distinction to be made: this federal statue does not, in fact, require mental health benefits to be provided at all.