Dear Mr. Roberts and Mr. Burke,
My name is Lou Melgarejo and I am a Comcast/NBCU employee. I have what I consider to be my dream job. I am a married father of three. I am first and foremost a family man. My oldest daughter is a beautiful, energetic, happy and incredibly intelligent 7 year old girl named Bianca. Bianca happens to be autistic.
The current autism diagnosis rate according to the CDC is 1 in 88 while a recent study suggests that the number could be even higher at 1 in 50 or 2% of school aged children being autistic. Our daughter Bianca is one of those 88, but we like to refer to her as being "1 in a million".
I am writing you this letter on World Autism Awareness Day so that I may enlighten you about our healthcare plan as it pertains to autism therapies. I do not believe for one second that the policy as it stands was created intentionally to harm or discriminate against autistic children. I believe that it was created with a lack of awareness. Hopefully this letter will make you more aware. I apologize for reaching out to you in this public forum, but calls and emails through proper channels proved futile.
I am requesting that Comcast amend its self-funded healthcare plan to include coverage of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). As of my last conversation with Accolade on 04/01/2013, ABA therapy is denied because it is considered to be "experimental". This is simply not supported by science. ABA is the most commonly prescribed evidence-based treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder with DECADES of research demonstrating the effectiveness of ABA for autism.
Bianca was diagnosed at the age of 4, but we knew from the time she was about 13 months that something was different with Bianca. She stopped responding to her name, she was very late to crawl and walk; she became engrossed in her toys, lost her words, stopped making eye-contact with us and isolated herself from other kids. We knew what the diagnosis was going to be before we even scheduled the appointment. We were realists, and we were prepared.
What we were not prepared for, was dealing with our health insurance. Based off of our difficulties in carrying a baby to term and my wife being high risk, our experience with the insurance coverage through Comcast was exceptional. Having our babies was an expensive undertaking, yet our insurance was there to support us and lighten the financial burden every step of the way. We remain very grateful for that coverage because without it we could have never realized our dream of starting a family.
That is why it seemed so strange to us that a company that had already invested so much financially and medically in our daughter would not want to protect that investment by providing her all the tools she would need to reach her full potential.
3 years ago our pediatric specialist prescribed ABA therapy for our daughter, deeming it "Medically Necessary". Unfortunately, as stated earlier, Comcast does not cover ABA. Even though we live in a state in which autism insurance reform has been around for years, Comcast does not have to follow the mandate because self-funded plans follow federal and not state mandates. There is no federal mandate requiring coverage of ABA therapy... yet.
I hope that you never have to experience a situation in which you are told your child needs a particular service and you cannot provide it for them. As a man, it pulls me apart from the very fibers of my being. I was raised to provide for my family. The out of pocket cost of ABA will not allow me to provide the therapy for my daughter. Imagine if you could how that would make you feel. Especially when you read studies like the Lovaas 1987 UCLA study that showed 47% of children in their ABA group achieved a normal IQ versus 2% of the children in the control group. Imagine how you would feel as you watch 32 states pass meaningful autism health insurance legislation forcing fully-funded plans to cover their employees for ABA therapy, yet you are penalized for having a self-funded plan. Imagine how hopeless you feel when you see that the United States Surgeon General has said that the efficacy of applied behavioral methods has been demonstrated for more than 30 years while the US Office of Personnel Management review panel concluded that there was sufficient evidence to categorize ABA therapy as a medical therapy... yet you are told by your insurance company that you are being denied because it is experimental. As a parent of an autistic child, that mixed message is both depressing and confusing.
The lack of coverage has forced me to look for work elsewhere in the hopes that I can get my little girl the help her doctor says is "medically necessary". Do you know that it was even suggested at one point that my wife and I get divorced because it would mean better coverage for my daughter by "cheating" the system? I have ZERO desire to leave my job. I have ZERO desire to divorce my wife. It is depressing to think that I could be forced into either position over something like better healthcare coverage for my daughter.
I write to you both in the hopes that you understand the anguish and stress that this situation lends itself to. I ask you both as fathers and family men to please address this coverage gap in the Comcast/NBCU healthcare package. I encourage you to show the world that Comcast and NBCU are world class operations by joining other companies that have already voluntarily elected meaningful autism benefits. Companies such as: Microsoft, Cisco, Deloitte, Intel, Capitol One, Wells Fargo, DTE Energy, Yahoo, Time Warner, Home Depot and White Castle.
It won't even break the bank. Claims data from across the country indicate health insurance premiums rise about 32 cents per member per month. Wouldn't you chip in 32 cents if it meant children would have a better shot at reaching their full potential? I know I would.
I invite you to spend just a few hours with my daughter. See for yourself how smart she is, how close she is to blossoming, how great a kid she is. Bianca is pure potential. She just needs a little help. She needs the therapies that have been prescribed to her.
In the NBCUniversal Values, Integrity is listed first. Under the "Integrity" heading it reads, "Do the right thing and treat people right".
Please treat autistic children right and amend our healthcare plan to include meaningful autism benefits. I can arrange for a team of experts in the field to meet with the proper representatives. Show me that Comcast Cares. You gentlemen have the power to positively affect change for what must be THOUSANDS of employees and their families by simply changing the current policy.
PS: I really do love my job and my coworkers. Please don't fire me.