Kentucky bill to expand coverage for stuttering services advances with assist from ex-NBA player

FILE - The Kentucky Capitol is seen, Jan. 14, 2020, in Frankfort, Ky. The Kentucky Senate voted, Thursday, March 7, 2024, to expand insurance coverage for people seeking treatment for stuttering, and the bill's sponsor credited former basketball star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the assist. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FILE – The Kentucky Capitol is seen, Jan. 14, 2020, in Frankfort, Ky. The Kentucky Senate voted, Thursday, March 7, 2024, to expand insurance coverage for people seeking treatment for stuttering, and the bill’s sponsor credited former basketball star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the assist. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Senate voted on Thursday to expand insurance coverage for people seeking treatment for stuttering, and the bill’s sponsor credited a former basketball star with the assist.

The Senate action to advance the bill came after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist endorsed the measure at a Senate committee hearing. Kidd-Gilchrist played on a national championship team at the University of Kentucky and then spent several years playing in the NBA.

But it’s his willingness to open up about his own struggles with stuttering that won praise Thursday.

“He’s a hero and a game-changer for using his position and his influence to do good for people that don’t have the resources that he had access to,” said Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield.

Westerfield said his bill aims to help many more Kentuckians receive the treatment they need.

“There are a lot of Kentuckians … who either don’t have coverage, have coverage and it’s limited by these arbitrary caps — say 20 visit therapy sessions and that’s it — regardless of what your need is,” he said. “You might need 10 times that many. But you can’t get it. And so unless you’ve got gold-plated coverage, and most Kentuckians don’t, you end up having to try to pay for it out of pocket.”

As a result, many people don’t get the care they need. But his legislation aims to change that, he said The bill would eliminate those arbitrary caps and require greater coverage for stuttering services, he said.

His Senate Bill 111 heads to the House next. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

Kidd-Gilchrist pointed to his deep ties to Kentucky and his efforts to help other people struggling with stuttering in a recent op-ed published in the Lexington Herald-Leader. He wrote that he’s traveled the Bluegrass State to “hear testimonies” from people who stutter and advocate on their behalf.

“I am pushing myself to use the very thing that can be a struggle — my voice — to speak up for the community I represent and whose voices often go unheard,” he said.

“A primary obstacle to treatment for those who stutter is the way that insurance coverage is structured for this condition,” he added.

He said there’s a “staggering lack of data” regarding the public’s awareness of those who stutter.

“For children and adults who stutter to be set up for success in life and overall quality of life improvements, it is necessary that they be given access to all necessary procedures — from diagnosis to treatment to long-term speech therapy maintenance,” he wrote.

Speech therapy is the mainstay of stuttering treatment. Globally, 70 million people stutter and President Joe Biden has spoken publicly about being mocked by classmates and a nun in Catholic school for his own speech impediment. He said overcoming it was one of the hardest things he’s ever done.

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