February 3rd, 2016

“With 1 out of every 45 American children born on the autism spectrum, we can’t afford to wait” – Joe Sestak 

For Immediate Release
February 3, 2016

Upper Darby, Pa. – Former Admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak spoke at Five Points Coffee in Upper Darby earlier today to discuss the policies he will pursue in the U.S. Senate to better the lives of Pennsylvania’s autistic community and build on the work he began while serving in the House of Representatives.


Sestak speaks at Five Points Coffee in Upper Darby, Delaware County


“One of my proudest achievements in Congress was passing the first increase in federal funding for autism in 12 years,” Sestak said. “With 1 out of every 45 American children born on the autism spectrum, we can’t afford to wait another 12 years. When we fail to invest resources in autism research and care, we fail to invest in our families, our children, and our nation.”

Fast Facts on Autism:

  • An estimated 1 in 45 children born in the United States is on the autism spectrum.
  • Prevalence of autism in the United States increased by nearly 120 percent from 2000 to 2010, while the number of Pennsylvanians using autism services has jumped 334 percent since 2005.
  • More than 3.5 million Americans currently live with autism spectrum disorder, with over 180,000 Pennsylvanians currently estimated to be on the autism spectrum.
  • 35 percent of young adults on the autism spectrum have not held a job or received post-secondary education after graduating high school.
  • Although the Affordable Care Act protects autism as a preexisting condition and provides free autism screening for children, coverage of autism treatment still varies from state to state due to varying essential benefit standards.

At the roundtable discussion in Upper Darby, Sestak told supporters the story of a woman whose autistic son he helped transition into an adult autism services program when Sestak represented Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District. But this story demonstrates the limited resources available for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, and the need for accountable leaders in the Senate like Sestak who will walk in the shoes of their constituents.

Sestak also:

  • Introduced and passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 to increase autism funding and research to military families by 100 percent, the first federal increase in autism funding in 12 years
  • Voted for the Affordable Care Act, which protects ASD as a preexisting condition and includes free preventative screenings for autism at 18 and 24 months old.
  • Introduced legislation to improve the level of care provided to military children with Autism Spectrum Disorders to ensure treatment for a child with ASD is covered by military TRICARE
  • Cosponsored the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act of 2007 to evaluate and report on evidence-based biomedical and behavioral autism treatments and services and establish state-based demonstration grant programs to provide evidence-based autism services
  • Cosponsored the Empowering Children with Autism through Education Act to require the Secretary of Education to establish the Empowering Children with Autism through an Education Task Force to identify evidence-based educational strategies to improve the quality of learning for individuals with autism in grades K-12
  • Cosponsored the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act to require comparable coverage for mental health as physical health issues.

“Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States, but the resources our nation has invested have not kept pace,” Sestak said. “Even after our nation took one of the most important steps forward in ensuring access to health care for all Americans by passing the Affordable Care Act, families can still be forced to pay an average of $60,000 a year because many insurance plans are not required to cover autism therapies.”

In Pennsylvania, behavioral treatments for autism are not covered as an essential benefit for insurance plans sold on the ACA marketplace. And while Pennsylvania does have a state autism mandate, it only covers up to $36,000 on large group and state employee plans – meaning autistic individuals covered by small group or individual plans often fall through the cracks.

Policies Sestak Will Pursue to Enhance Support & Research for Autism:

  • Preventing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its protection of autism as a preexisting condition and its free coverage of autism screenings.
  • Mandating that all insurance plans cover treatments for autism, including developmental and behavioral therapies.
  • Ensuring that all states are fully compliant with Medicaid requirements that require coverage for autism treatments.
  • Continuing to work to ensure that all military families have access to autism treatments through TRICARE, just as he previously championed in Congress.
  • Creating clear guidelines for mental health parity enforcement to ensure that mental illnesses, as well as developmental disorders like autism, are treated with the same dignity and health care access as physical diseases.
  • Fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for the first time in history to ensure that schools have the resources to provide children on the autism spectrum with the tools they need to succeed.
  • Expanding post-secondary educational opportunities and public-private partnerships to help autistic students and adults learn valuable skills, find work outside of subminimum wage positions, and transition into a productive and independent adulthood.
  • Expanding funding for research into autism treatment and care to improve educational strategies for autistic students, evaluate and improve existing behavioral therapy approaches, and create benchmarks for strengthening existing services for individuals on the autism spectrum.
  • Improving the safety and treatment of autistic individuals by ensuring restraints are only used in schools when absolutely necessary, providing crisis intervention training to teachers, and providing training to law enforcement on effective communication with and identifying signs of abuse in autistic and other disabled individuals.
  • Creating and funding an autism protection and advocacy program, much like Sestak proposed when he supported this provision of the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act.
  • Encouraging Pennsylvania to implement the provisions of the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, which would allow families with a disabled member to set up a special savings account with non-taxable earnings for disability-related expenses.

“We must do more to serve those on the autism spectrum, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because we will all benefit from their contributions to our society when they’re given the opportunity to be all they can be,” Sestak said.

For more information, contact:

Michael Garrett