Tuesday, April 15, 2008


April 14, 2008
TIME: 08:12:10 ET

Group wants autism covered universally under medicare

O'REGAN: Fighting for autism, a group from BC will be in Ottawa this morning to launch a nationwide campaign to elect members of Parliament who will support including autism treatment as part of medicare.

And joining us now from Ottawa to talk about the campaign is organizer Jean Lewis.

Good to talk to you.

LEWIS: Good morning.

O'REGAN: Firstly, what is the story right across the country? Health care is a provincial jurisdiction, and I'm just wondering, does it vary across the country, the amount of coverage for autism treatment?

LEWIS: Well, absolutely. The problem is, autism treatment isn't covered at all across the country. Currently, across Canada there is a patchwork of autism services that are not treatment. They're respite care, babysitting, childcare, those types of things. They are provided by the provincial social services ministry.

Right now, autism treatment -- science-based autism treatment -- is not covered. The Canada Health Act is federal legislation, not provincial legislation. So, we need children diagnosed with autism to have universal access to health care through medicare.

O'REGAN: Now, you have attempted this, as I understand, at the provincial level in British Columbia. How effective was that?

LEWIS: Well, we actually sued the provincial government, the BC provincial government, almost 10 years ago and won at the BC Supreme Court in the Auton landmark case, which eventually was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada. And one of their main arguments was -- or decisions was -- is that it really is a matter for Parliament to decide how to spend health-care dollars.

So, we have taken the Supreme Court of Canada at their word and we've gotten political in a nonpartisan way. So, our campaign is to elect MPs, regardless of what their party affiliation is, who, if elected, will support legislation which will amend the Canada Health Act to include medicare coverage for the treatment of autism.

O'REGAN: What kind of response have you gotten amongst members of Parliament?

LEWIS: Well, it's very interesting. We started this campaign in the last federal election just in British Columbia in five ridings where in the previous election the margin of victory was less than 2 percent. And I have to say, in the five ridings that we initiated this campaign in it would be fair to say that we affected the vote in at least two of them.

We have now extended it. We are here in Ontario, meeting with parents and supporters and looking at some constituencies here. Also in the Maritimes.

So, we have captured attention. The MPs who were elected, who did publicly support us, have been actively assisting. Such as Peter Stoffer, Shawn Murphy, Andy Scott, Dawn Black. There are a number of them.

O'REGAN: So, what you're saying is if people do not support that position then you are recommending that people do not vote for them?
If this is an issue that they consider a priority?

LEWIS: Absolutely. And I think it's important to understand that this issue no longer is just pertinent to parents of children with autism.
We had a rally in Burnaby at the beginning of March where 400 people attended. And 25 percent of those people who attended were not parents of autistic children. They were other, fair-minded Canadians who are absolutely outraged that this has not been solved after this length of time.

After the Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2004, Ipsos-Reid did a
poll: 89 percent of Canadians polled said that autism treatment should be in medicare. So, it tells you there is this huge disconnect between the voters and those who govern us.

O'REGAN: Thank you very much, Ms. Lewis, for your time.

LEWIS: My pleasure.

Jean Lewis, Director, BC Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT)

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