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Calls to Action

Autism Speaks Warns of National 'Stealth' Campaign to Undermine Autism

February 27, 2012

NEW YORK, NY (February 27, 2012) –  Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, has alerted its 100,000 grassroots advocates nationally to be on the watch for recently introduced “stealth” bills that would undermine autism insurance reform laws enacted in 29 states and impede progress on reform bills being pushed in other state capitals.

The “stealth” bills are based on a model “Health Care Choice Act for States” developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and enacted last year in Georgia for individual policies. An ALEC-model bill was vetoed in Arizona last year by Governor Jan Brewer, others were defeated in Indiana, Kentucky, Montana and West Virginia, and additional versions are pending before other state legislatures, as tracked by the National Council of State Legislatures.

"“Parents and families in 29 states across the nation fought hard to stop insurance industry discrimination against children with autism,"” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president for programs and services. “"The insurance industry now wants to turn back the clock to the days when they could pocket thousands of dollars a year in premiums from these families without providing a dime in autism benefits for their kids.”"

Autism Speaks has taken on the insurance lobby in state capitals across the nation and with the grassroots support of local families succeeded in enacting autism insurance reform laws in states representing 70 percent of the nation’s population. In 2011 alone, such laws were enacted in California, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas and Rhode Island to deal with autism as a catastrophic medical condition. Many health insurance plans are regulated at the state level, rather than federal level.

The ALEC bills would allow employers in states that bar insurance discrimination against autism to shop for coverage in states that continue to allow discrimination. In her veto message last year, Governor Brewer said the repeal bill would have surrendered Arizona’s decisions over benefit requirements to legislatures in other states.

“I am also concerned about risks to our citizens who may be subject to other states’ regulatory procedures that could leave them with little recourse in the event of mistreatment,” Brewer said. “(The vetoed bill) limits the jurisdiction of the Arizona Department of Insurance over out-of-state companies, potentially putting Arizona policyholders at risk. Arizonans should not have to litigate against an insurer when the State has an existing process by which insurance disputes can be resolved.”

Early diagnosis and treatment of autism has been demonstrated to improve the quality of life and functioning for individuals with autism, while reducing avoidable costs to taxpayers for special education and social services.

The insurance lobby has fought autism insurance reform in the states by claiming premiums for their members will skyrocket as a result of covering autism-related services. Actual experience in states that have enacted autism insurance reform has repeatedly proven these assertions to be inflated, most recently in a study by the Missouri Department of Insurance which documented a 0.1 percent increase in premiums one year after it enacted autism insurance reform. Insurance lobbyists had warned the increase would be 30 times higher.