County officials look at new ways to address autism treatment benefits

Posted at 9:35 PM, Nov 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-04 23:35:13-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah has the highest rate of autism in the country, yet treatment plans for children diagnosed with it are not covered by insurance.  Next year, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams hopes to change that for county employees by making room for autism health coverage in its 2014 budget.

“I think this can be completely life changing,” said Shanda Gonzalez, whose 12-year-old daughter has Asperger’s syndrome.

As part of the county’s $870 million budget proposal, officials hope to use approximately $200,000 annually to help its employees cover some of the costs associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Gonzalez, who works for the Salt County Sheriff’s Office, said the assistance would help pay for the intensive therapies and tutoring she can’t afford.

“I’m excited to see her not struggle when she has to write in her journal for school,” Gonzalez said. “I’m excited to see her not struggle for a response when she’s having a conversation with somebody.”

The plan would provide annual coverage of up to $36,000 for children under the age of 9, and $15,000 in annual coverage for kids ages 10-18.

“Families living with autism spectrum disorder have unique stresses. Therapies are expensive, and families spend long times on waiting lists,” McAdams said.

The Utah Autism Coalition commended the county for their efforts and urged other state officials to take notice.

“As the parent of a child with autism who waited over three years to have my daughter say my name, to say mom and to tell me I love you. This is a big deal,” said Christine Passey, the organization’s vice president. “This will change children’s lives and will change families’ lives.”

While Gonzalez hopes to one day see coverage provided statewide, the county’s efforts are a major victory for her family and their future.

“I really want nothing more than to see her be able to have a happy and successful life. I mean, that’s really all you want as a parent,” Gonzalez said.

The county council will have final say on the plan when they vote on the budget in December. McAdams said if it passes, employees will be able to enroll in the benefits beginning April 1.