Legislature passes bills strengthening autism services

Speaker Therese Terlaje (PNC file photo)

Guam – On the heels of Autism Awareness Month, two bills introduced by Senator Therese Terlaje were voted on in Monday’s legislative session and received unanimous support.

Bill 66-35 seeks to 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.

According to the Guam Autism Center and families that testified in support of Bill 66-35, 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 allows for an average of 15 to 17 hours of therapy a week for children zero (0) to nine (9) and merely half of that for those 9 to 21 years of age.

“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 Dueñas of the Hunter Speaks Organization that facilitates the Guam Autism Center.

Autism center

Bill 68-35 seeks to appropriate $150,000 from the General Fund to the Guam Autism Center to provide needed diagnostic and treatment services to families w/ children on the autism spectrum.

In FY 2018, still pending the construction of the DISID Business Center and One Stop Community Resource and Wellness Center that would house an Autism Center, the 34th Guam Legislature, allocated $150,000 to the Hunter Speaks non-profit organization as an initial investment to stand up the Guam Autism Center.

The Guam Autism Center has started billing health insurance under Hunter’s Law as a means of long-term sustainability. However, the organization estimates that it will take approximately two (2) 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.

“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.

Terlaje added, “The government in monthly-consolidated revenue and expenditure reports continues to receive revenues in excess of adopted projections, so I am hoping implementation will be swift because it is needed immediately. It is my hope that the Governor uses her transfer authority and other executive powers to assist the Autism community.”