What promise does Ohio hold for this autistic boy?
Parents say a scholarship program may help where Oklahoma falls short

By Michael McNutt Published: May 30, 2008
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Caroline Hall says her family has no choice but to leave Oklahoma because legislators didn't pass a bill requiring insurance companies to cover autism treatments.

"The house should be ready to put up for sale next week,” she said.

She and her husband, Doug, are moving to Ohio, where their 4 1/2 -year-old-son, Dougie, can take part in a special scholarship program for autistic children, she said.

Caroline Hall, who works in the physics department at the University of Oklahoma, was one of more than 30 parents who went to the state Capitol for several weeks to encourage legislators to pass the bill known as Nick's Law. The measure passed in the Senate, but died in the House.

"It's been more than a frustration; it's been an outrage,” she said.

Hall said she appreciates the efforts of Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, who wrote Nick's Law and got it passed in the Senate.

Opponents cite possible costs
Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, refused to let the measure be taken up in his House committee. Peterson, who announced this week he's not seeking re-election, twice refused parents of autistic children to speak and once prevented Democratic members on the committee from bringing up the measure.

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, did not let the measure advance to the full House in the last days of the session, which ended last week.

House Republicans are concerned insurers would pass increased costs on to policyholders, which might make insurance unaffordable.

Benge is forming a task force to study health care costs in the state, including what effect adding autism coverage would have on insurance policyholders in Oklahoma. Other legislators are looking at studies involving autism.

Wayne Rohde, whose son, Nick, has autism and for whom Nick's Law is named, said he and other parents of autistic children plan to attend legislative task force meetings dealing with autism.

"We're looking forward to those studies basically to prove that what we've been asking for is correct,” he said. "Obviously, this is going to be a major, major issue for the House Republicans to address.”

Rohde, of Edmond, said he is aware of about a dozen Oklahoma families who are considering moving to states that require insurance companies to provide coverage for autism. He estimates about 6,000 children in Oklahoma suffer from autism.

"We're going to stay and win,” he said. "It's unfortunate we have to wait another year. There's going to be several hundred kids that are going to be basically locked into autism because they were unable to receive services and treatment because of this delay.

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