SPRINGFIELD, Mo. A law just signed by Missouri Governor Mike Parson could lower costs for families with children with disabilities. It requires insurance companies to cover therapies for kids with developmental disabilities.
Melanie Stinnett is a speech pathologist and the owner of TheraCare Outpatient Services. She has worked with a group called Missouri Disability Empowerment (MoDE) for three years to get the bill through the Missouri legislature.
Right now, Missouri law requires insurance companies to pay for therapies for kids with autism. The new law extends that mandate to all children with developmental disabilities.
"So it just widens the ability of families to get access to care for their children," Stinnett said.
One Springfield family had to fight their insurance company to get coverage for their son's speech therapy. Stinnett said if a law like this one had already existed, that fight never would've had to happen.
"He's a crazy, awesome kid. He has hearing loss," Elaina Kennedy said of her 3-year-old son, Greyson.
Greyson has dealt with hearing loss since he was born.
"At birth, he was in the NICU, he failed two hearing screenings, failed those," Kennedy said.
Kennedy and her husband gave Greyson hearing aids.
"As a baby, he didn't want to wear those hearing aids. So speech and language didn't develop like it was supposed to," she said.
Her insurance company refused to even cover an evaluation for speech therapy.
"So we fought like crazy. It was very, very difficult," Kennedy said.
She said the fight lasted four or five months and said took a toll on her family, her mood and Greyson.
"That was the biggest problem for us was it was affecting Greyson. He couldn’t communicate what he wanted. That was a big stressor. I could’ve lived without that," Kennedy said.
Stinnett is Greyson's speech therapist. She remembers Kennedy being worried about being able to pay for his sessions.
"I remember telling her, don't worry about it, we'll take care of it, we'll figure it out," Stinnett said.
She said it took her getting in touch with a legislator, then a lobbyist, to get hold of the insurance company to cover the therapy. Stinnett said the new law removes a barrier, allowing insurance companies to limit their coverage based on a diagnosis.
"So it just widens the ability of families to get access to care for their children," she said.
Even though Kennedy won her fight for coverage last year, the new law will keep her from having to do it all over again.
"Because if Greyson needs occupational therapy in the future, I'm not going to have fight the insurance company for it," Kennedy said.
While both Stinnett and Kennedy said the law is a huge step for Missouri, both said there is still work to be done. Stinnett wants to continue to represent southwest Missouri kids in Jefferson City. Kennedy now wants to push insurance companies for more coverage on hearing aids for kids like Greyson.
Missouri is the third state to pass such a law, both ladies hope other states will follow suit.