Lutreva Byrd has spent years trying to find the best treatment for her 9-year-old son who was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum at three years old. But, like millions of Americans who struggle to pay for health care, Byrd just couldn't afford the treatment her doctor told her was her son’s best hope.
“It has been so challenging because you never want your child to be left behind and you want the hope of knowing they have chance at opportunities just like everyone else,” Byrd said.
As a federal employee in Alabama, her health insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program does not cover Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), the most effective known treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorders.
There is an ABA treatment center and a school in Byrd's hometown of Huntsville. It's convenient and nearby, yet her family can't pay for the $1,400 in monthly fees. Regular appointments with an ABA specialist, at $300 a visit, are also out of reach.
But Byrd has never given up – and neither have her union brothers and sisters. AFGE has spent 10 years convincing the Office of Personnel Management to issue a new rule requiring all Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan carriers to provide coverage for ABA. After a decade of dogged action, OPM finally relented, giving parents like Byrd the ABA coverage their children need starting in 2017.
“I was overwhelmed with joy, to be honest, because I wanted to start my son in this type of treatment as he is still under the age of 10,” said Byrd, the newly appointed Assistant Vice President of AFGE Local 1858. “I am so excited about what AFGE is doing for all federal employees and I want to be an asset to aid others, as knowledge coupled with unity equates to power.”
Michael Wilson, an AFGE member from Massachusetts, can relate. As a parent of three children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum, this new coverage comes as a welcome relief.
“I cannot tell you how many times my wife and I have called ABA treatment centers for our children just to be turned away because we lack the coverage,” said Wilson, a correctional officer at Devens Medical Center, a federal prison.
As the legislative coordinator for Local 222, Wilson knows the power of persuasion and determined action.
“This is why I love and support my union,” Wilson said. “There is something to be said with strength in numbers and real solidarity, normal people sticking together fighting the good fight. Well, it pays off. I’m so excited.”