STATEN ISLAND — Staten Island Assemblyman Matthew Titone introduced a bill to require insurance companies to provide coverage for parents to buy GPS tracking devices for autistic children after Queens teen Avonte Oquendo went missing last year and was found dead in January.
Titone introduced the bill on Tuesday that would make medical insurance companies include coverage for parents to buy personal GPS tracking devices like LoJack or Project Lifesaver.
"This legislation will provide parents and caregivers of children with ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder] the option of getting a tracking device without being concerned about the cost," Titone said in a statement.
"Insurance companies would cover the costs for the equipment and monitoring services, making it easier for families to keep their children safe."
The bill is similar to "Avonte's Law" planned by Sen. Charles Schumer, which would allocate $10 million nationwide to distribute the devices to local police departments, schools or other organizations. But unlike Schumer's bill, which relies on federal funding, Titone's bill would force insurance companies foot the bill to ensure that the program continues with or without government support, Titone said.
A study cited by Titone found that 49 percent of autistic children and teens attempt to run or wander off after age four, and the devices can be used by a third-party to track them.
"It is unfortunate that Avonte's disappearance prompted this legislation, but it proves that the dangers of wandering for a child with ASD must be addressed immediately," said State Sen. Diane Savino, who sponsored the senate version, in a statement. "This GPS legislation will help bring comfort to the families worrying about the risk factors associated with wandering."
Avonte, who was 14 and nonverbal, ran out of his Long Island City school on Oct. 4. His departure was captured on security camera, but his trail went cold after that.
His disappearance sparked a four-month-long citywide manhunt, which culminated when his remains were found on a College Point Beach in January.