Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in America, but in Georgia, insurance companies are not required to cover costly therapies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 88 children is autistic.
Currently, 34 states require insurers to cover autism treatment. Georgia isn't one of them, but insurance mandates aren't new to the state. Georgia law requires insurers to provide certain preventative treatments, like mammograms.
Anna Bullard is lobbying for Ava's Law, a bill before the state legislature named after her daughter.
"We have mandates in place like you know, breast cancer screenings, and all those kinds of things that save lives and drive healthcare costs down because people get preventive care," she said. "This is the same issue."
Psychologists, psychiatrists and parents credit early-intervention therapy with helping autistic children lead more productive lives. Ava Bullard started getting therapy when she was 2 years old.
Now she's 8 and Anna Bullard says if you met her three girls, you wouldn't be able to tell which one is autistic.
She says that without therapy, "Ava would not be talking the way she is. She would not be able to go to birthdays. She wouldn't be in school."
Mary and Joe McCullough's grandson, Joey, is autistic. He's 32 and hasn't spoken a word in his life.
"I've never heard, 'I love you,'" Joe McCullough said. "I never have. I've never heard him say, 'papa.'"
Experts say the window for the most effective autism therapy is short. The sooner parents start, the better.
The McCulloughs fear that, for their grandson, that window may already have closed.
"My grandson will never do the things that your grandchildren will do," Joe McCullough said. "He'll never play baseball. He'll never play basketball. He'll never fall in love. He'll never have a wife. He'll never have children."
Thursday night, about 50 supporters of Ava's law rallied at Garden City's Senior Citizens' Center.
The law is expected to cost Georgians an additional 30 cents a month, on average, on their insurance premiums.
Advocates say it will save taxpayers in the long run to have these children grow up to be productive adults who don't need costly assistance from the state.
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