TOPEKA (February 19, 2014) -- Autism Speaks is urging Kansas lawmakers to reject HB.2704, a bill introduced late last week in the House Insurance Committee and misrepresented as a "compromise" bill by its proponents. Neither the autism community nor Rep. John Rubin, the sponsor of HB.2531, have endorsed this new bill.
Mike Wasmer, a Kansas resident and Autism Speaks associate director of state government affairs, explains why HB.2704 would be bad for Kansas:
For six years, parents of children with autism in Kansas have put their trust in their elected officials to do the right thing. Sadly, those in power in the Kansas legislature continue to ignore their constituents to the detriment of our most vulnerable citizens. HB. 2704 is just the latest in a series of bad jokes being played on the autism community of Kansas. Rather than improving access to medically necessary treatment for autism, HB.2704 proposes cutting existing autism services for state employees and offers a meaningless benefit to a mere fraction of the rest of us.
In response to public outcry over another year of political gamesmanship during the 2013 legislative session that prevented a hearing on the autism insurance bill, the Kansas City Star reported that “House Speaker Ray Merrick, who was accused of bottling up the autism bill this year, has vowed to push a bill through himself next session if the insurance industry won’t compromise on the issue.” While Speaker Merrick promised to facilitate negotiations between autism advocates and the health insurance industry, these negotiations were not undertaken in good faith.
Hearing nothing from the Speaker’s office regarding possible negotiations over the legislative interim, Representative John Rubin and 34 House co-sponsors filed HB.2531. The bill would preserve existing coverage for medically necessary treatment of autism provided under the 2010 state employees “pilot project” and extend that coverage to hundreds more children with autism covered by state-regulated health plans. The response? House leadership promptly sent a clear message that HB.2531 would not get a hearing and instead called a meeting between autism advocates and representatives from the health insurance lobby.
Before those discussions were complete, the insurance lobby filed HB.2704 in the House Insurance Committee. The committee chair, Representative Scott Schwab, has announced that HB 2704 is “the compromise bill.”
HB 2704 is NOT a compromise between autism advocates and the insurance lobby
Autism advocates will not support a bill that cuts hard-won autism services for state employees. Autism advocates will not support a bill that imposes caps on services that would be among the lowest in the country, impeding the provision of medically necessary treatment.
Rather than supporting a bill that would help our children, autism advocates now find themselves in a position opposing a bill that would cut services for the lucky few who are covered by a State Employee Health Plan. Are Speaker Merrick and others in a position of leadership in the legislature punishing parents of children with autism for simply not going away?
The prevalence of autism has increased 1,000 fold in the past 40 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control at least 1 in every 88 children have autism. We are not going away, Mr. Speaker - there will be more of us every year.
Autism is treatable. Many of our children can lead independent, productive lives if provided access to medically necessary treatment. Continued opposition to meaningful autism insurance reform kills hope, robs futures and costs the State of Kansas millions of dollars in special education and taxpayer-funded adult disability services.