- By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Guam senators OK 2 bills addressing needs of autism community
Guam senators on Monday capped the Autism Awareness Month with the passage of two bills seeking to address the health care needs of children and young adults with autism on Guam.
One bill seeks to expand the health insurance coverage for you people with autism, and another appropriates $150,000 to the Guam Autism Center. Both bills were authored by Sen. Therese Terlaje.
Bill 66-35 would increase health insurance coverage “to a maximum benefit per year of $75,000 for an eligible person up to the age of 15 and a maximum benefit of $25,000 per year for an eligible person who is between the ages of 16 and 21.”
Current insurance mandates under Hunter’s Law allows a maximum benefit of $50,000 per year for an eligible person only up to the age of 9, and limits the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder to a $25,000 maximum benefit per year for an eligible person who is between the ages of 9 and 21.
“Although it was a great start and critical to bringing ABA therapy to Guam, the present dollar cap and age restrictions severely limit access to much needed care resulting in sub-optimal treatment and slower, less desirable progress,” stated Dr. Vincent Duenas of the Hunter Speaks
Organization, which facilitates the Guam Autism Center.
According to parents who testified on Bill 66 during a public hearing, most children on the spectrum require early intensive behavior intervention at roughly 25 to 40 hours per week and can make tremendous strides with it. “The current stipulations only allow for an average of 15 to 17 hours of therapy a week for children zero to nine and merely half of that for those 9 to 21 years of age,” a press release from Terlaje’s office states.
Meanwhile, the proposed $150,000 appropriation under Bill 68-35 would come from the general fund through the governor’s transfer authority.
The appropriation would allow the Guam Autism Center to provide needed diagnostic and treatment services to families with children on the autism spectrum.
“We must ensure that we provide tangible support to children with autism on our island and to the Guam Autism Center’s efforts to provide the needed services that have been lacking for too long. Many of our families have had to make the difficult decision to move off-island to seek necessary services. They should not have to go through this,” Terlaje said.
In 2018, the 34thGuam Legislature allocated $150,000 to the Hunter Speaks organization as an initial investment to start up the Guam Autism Center, which would be housed at the yet-to-be built DISID Business Center and One Stop Community Resource and Wellness Center.
“The center has started billing health insurance under Hunter’s Law as a means of long-term sustainability,” according to Terlaje’s office.
“However, the organization estimates that it will take approximately two years before the Guam Autism Center is completely self-funded. Funding appropriated to the center in 2017 is set to run out at the end of this month.”