HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 2,000 marchers turned out for an annual autism awareness walk to support legislation that would mandate health insurance coverage for children with the disorder.
There are 34 states that mandate health insurance coverage for autism. Hawaii could become the 35th state under Senate Bill 2054.
Many of Saturday's marchers include the families of children with autism, including 14-year-old Luke Pinnow, who was born on the Big Island.
Luke is also at the center of the measure, which has been nicknamed "Luke's Bill." His mother said they have paid a high price for his treatment.
"Everything that we can, we've paid out and done for him and we have nothing left, so we're really hoping that this does not happen to other families," said Geri Pinnow.
According to "Hawaii Families for Insurance Fairness," private treatments can cost up to $60,000 a year. Supporters said mandating health coverage won't add that much to insurance costs.
"What we know from other states is that the actual cost increase is about 31 cents per member per month, which is just mere pennies for the families and the children who really deserve treatment. I think that's not asking for a lot," said Dr. Amanda Kelly, who treats autistic children.
One lawmaker contends the treatment is already costing the state much more. "We know that there are over 14-hundred kids that are being served in the Department of Education right now, and they are costing us about $35 million a year," said Rep. Della Au Belatti (D), who chairs the House Health Committee.
The measure also comes as autism cases continue to rise. Just this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said autism now affects one out of 68 children nationally.
"This is truly an emergency, and there is a huge autism tsunami that's going to hit the state budget of Hawaii if insurance doesn't step in," said Lorri Unumb, a vice president with the group Autism Speaks.
S.B. 2054 is headed toward legislative approval. It goes before the House Finance Committee Tuesday.
"It will definitely help the kids who are coming up, the keiki in Hawaii who are coming up who have autism, who need these services, and then the state doesn't have to pay for these children at the end," said Geri Pinnow.