Autism: Worst welfare disaster in history
By Evelyn Pringle
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 26, 2006, 00:38

Scientist and medical experts say that unless the government forces the pharmaceutical industry to pay for the damage caused by mercury-laced vaccines, in the not too distant future, Americans will experience the worst welfare disaster in the history of this country.

No doubt with that in mind, eight members of Congress are calling for a new investigation into the link between the autism epidemic and the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, that children received in vaccines during the 1990s, and that some children received as late as 2003.

After six years of hearings, and testimony from medical experts, scientists, special education teachers, school nurses, and parents of autistic children, several lawmakers say they are convinced that a review of the vaccine database will show a causal link between autism and thimerosal.

Throughout the 1990s, when thimerosal was most heavily used, the number of children diagnosed with autism reached epidemic proportions. During this period, the levels of mercury that children received were 120 times greater than safety standards set for oral ingestion of mercury in food, according to the lawmakers.

In 1999, public health officials began asking vaccine-makers to eliminate the preservative from childhood vaccines. But seven years later, word got out that the preservative is still in the flu vaccine recently added to the childhood immunization schedule, and parents, medical experts, and scientists are outraged.

In seeking an independent review, the lawmakers basically told the Centers for Disease Control to butt out. They maintain that previous research conducted by the agency is flawed because it "was based on data collected prior to the removal of thimerosal and failed to explicitly compare the outcome of children who received thimerosal-containing vaccines with those who did not," they said.

The group has also criticized the Institute of Medicine for its 2004 public announcement that there is no link between vaccines and autism, because the conclusion for the most part, was based on European studies, when American children had been injected with 75 percent higher levels of mercury than the children in the European studies were exposed to.

In March 2006, the lawmakers sent a letter to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, asking that agency to conduct a study of the CDC�s Vaccine Safety Datalink, which contains records on 7 million children vaccinated since 1990.

�If the federal government is going to have a study whose results will be broadly accepted, such a study cannot be led by the CDC," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

Although the debate over the cause of autism may rage on indefinitely, the rising costs to society of caring for and educating the children afflicted with the disorder cannot be ignored.

On January 4, the Government Accountability Office advised the Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness Committee on Government Reform that the average per pupil cost for educating a child with autism was estimated to be over $18,000 during the 1999-2000 school year, the most recent year in which data were available at the time of the report.

That means that six years ago, the GAO�s estimate for educating autistic children was nearly three times the cost of educating normal students. The amount of money needed to educate autistic children is the highest per pupil cost for children receiving special education services.

The epidemic does not discriminate. It's happening in every state in the nation, due to the fact that under the mandatory vaccine schedule, children in every state received the same mercury-laced vaccines.

From December 1998 to December 2002, the autism population in California�s Developmental Services System nearly doubled and the 97 percent increase in four years did not include children under 3, persons classified with less common forms of autism, or persons who are suspected of having autism but are not yet diagnosed.

The total number of autistic students served statewide in�creased from 10,360 in December 1998 to 20,377 in December 2002.

Over the last six years, the state of Ohio experienced more than a 1,000 percent increase in students with autism, with 5,406 reported cases for the 2003-2004 school year, according to the Ohio Legislative Office Of Education Oversight.

This year, the Pennridge School District in Pennsylvania, expects to only receive about $1 million in federal funding, and only $2.8 million from the state, to cover its $11 million special education budget. This means about 60 percent of the total cost will have to be paid by local taxpayers.

In recent years, the average age of autistic children entering the school system has shifted to much younger children. Under federal law, public schools must provide appropriate education for all children with disabilities, starting at age 3, and many autistic children remain in the system until age 21.

For very young children, the recommendation for early interven�tion has created an increased demand for more intensive behavioral therapy and educational services in general. However, the federal government only partially reimburses the states for the cost of educating autistic children, even though early intervention means that the services required for each child must now be provided for a much longer period of time.

And on the other hand, as more autistic children reach late adolescence, the need for out-of-home residential ser�vices is beginning to have a heavy impact on state budgets.

There is also an increase in public health care costs associated with the growing number of autistic children. For instance, according to state government records, South Carolina has an estimated 2,000 children under the age of 18 with autism, and the great majority of these children are eligible for at least some services covered by Medicaid.

During the fiscal year 2005, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, South Carolina paid out more than $20 million for autism care, in large part because most insurance companies do not cover the high cost of the specific therapies that have been found to be the most successful in treating children with autism.

A group of South Carolina lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would require private insurers to cover services for all autism patients regardless of age. Industry lobbyist Larry Marchant says that if passed, the bill would cause the health insurance premiums that individuals or families pay to increase 25 percent, and would average out to an extra $200 a month for those enrolled in family plans.

In addition, the financial burden that a disorder like autism takes on families is absolutely devastating. Upon becoming autistic after receiving vaccines at 16 months, Laura Bono says her son, "Jackson's medical and therapy needs began taking every bit of money we had saved or ever would have saved."

"The total we have paid for Jackson's medical, nutritional and private therapy expenses so far," Laura says, "is roughly $685,000 since August 1990."

That amount averages out to well over $50,000 a year.

There is no escaping the fact that the epidemic is having a profound impact on society; not only on autistic children and their families, but on our public health care programs and school systems as well. And, until vaccine-makers are held accountable, taxpayers will continue to carry the full burden.

Evelyn Pringle is a columnist for Independent Media TV and an investigative journalist focusing on exposing corruption in government.

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