Georgia Senate Approves Compromise Insurance Bill

ATLANTA (February 25, 2014) -- The Georgia Senate voted unanimously for a compromise autism insurance bill after hearing several lawmakers, some in tears and one quoting from the Gettysburg Address, argue for passage of the bill. It goes now to the House of Representatives.

Sponsored by Senator Tim Golden of Valdosta, the chair of the Senate Insurance Committee, the bill, SB.397, would require state-regulated health plans to cover the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism through age six. Coverage of applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment would be covered up to $35,000 a year.

"This is a finely crafted bill," said Golden. "If it is to have any chance at all (in the House), it needs to come out of the Senate with no changes."

Several speakers credited Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for breaking an impasse in the Senate by helping to broker the new bill. Cagle spoke for the bill before the Insurance Committee last week, the first time he has ever appeared before a legislative committee.

The Senate voted 51-0 for the bill, which is a new compromise version of Ava's Law. Sen. John Albers, the sponsor of the original Ava's Law bill, spoke in favor of the compromise version.

"This is a great day for Georgia," said Albers. "This helps children, it helps people with special needs and it saves the state money, all at the same time. If you every voted for a bill like that, I would like to know what it is."

Ava's Law was named after Ava Bullard of Lyons, whose mother Anna has helped rally advocates around the state for better insurance. Her uncle, Senator Tommie Williams, spoke passionately for the bill on the Senate floor and took on the National Federation of Independent Business, a lobbying arm for small businesses.

"I own five businesses and I've started other businesses that failed," Williams said. "When I buy something I'm not just interested in the lowest price, I'm interested in quality at the best price.

"That’s what they (NFIB) should be doing for me as a small businessman, and not just saying every mandate is bad."