Doing what must be done

Published 6:28 pm Sunday, May 13, 2018

By Jason Swindle
Senior partner at Swindle Law Group

This year, Georgians stepped up and addressed the most important, yet previously almost unknown, issue that affects all of us — autism.

While thousands of people and organizations have made significant contributions to illuminating the issues surrounding autism that have been shrouded in darkness for so many decades, Kimberly Dick has made a special impact in Georgia. Kimberly is the executive director of field development in Georgia and Tennessee for Autism Speaks (AS). She has worked tirelessly over the years to make Georgia aware of autism’s impact on our people. With her pleasant disposition and sincere message, she has developed working relationships with Gov. Deal, Lt. Gov. Cagle, and many members of the General Assembly.

Kimberly, along with AS, has also been supportive and instrumental in the continuing success of the West Georgia Autism Foundation. Kimberly and others have played a huge part in making 2018 the year when Georgia accepted the challenge of doing what is required to address autism.  Georgia’s first significant attack on the ignorance, lack of awareness and financial issues associated with autism took place with the passage of Ava’s Law. Ava’s Law was originally passed in Georgia in 2015 after almost a decade of providing critical information to our state government.

The law intended to reverse the damaging circumstances that individuals diagnosed with autism experienced when health insurance plans excluded any treatment specific to autism from their coverage. Families in Georgia have struggled for years to access basic care for their autistic children. Without the appropriate funding stream, the number of providers remained extremely low and long waiting lists developed across the state.

Ava’s Law was a huge step in the right direction. But, the initial passage was not without compromise. Although evidence indicates that therapy is effective across the lifespan of individuals with autism, the General Assembly amended the original bill to cap coverage of behavioral therapy at $30,000 annually and only apply the requirement to children ages 6 and under.

Another critical step forward occurred in the 2018 legislative session when Senator Renee Unterman introduced Senate Bill 118. The bill modestly increased the previous dollar cap on behavioral therapy to $35,000 annually. But, the major provision increased the age cap on behavioral therapy from 6 years old to 20. Gov. Deal recently signed SB 118.

The new law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.