(September 3, 2009) -- Health care reform has been and will continue to be the buzz phrase on Capitol Hill throughout 2009. For families in the autism community, the focus remains the passage of state and federal autism insurance reform legislation, requiring private insurance companies to provide coverage of evidence-based, medically necessary autism treatments, such as behavioral health therapies like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). As we move forward into what is sure to be an eventful fall, we thought it may be beneficial to take a look back at the state bills passed so far this year.
In total, 15 states -- Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin have enacted autism insurance reform bills. In the first half of 2009 alone, nearly 30 state legislatures saw the introduction of autism insurance reform legislation. Seven state bills have been passed since the start of the year and, while the legislative process is unique to each state, each of these bills commonly owe their passage to the hard work of parent volunteers, the leadership of legislative champions, and the overwhelming evidence that this reform is both cost effective and necessary to ensure that children with autism have access to the therapies they need.
April 2, 2009 New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signs Senate Bill 39 into law, making NM the ninth state to enact autism insurance reform. Under the leadership of State Senator Clinton D. Harden, SB 39 was passed unanimously by all Senate committees and by the full Senate.
May 5, 2009 Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, himself the father of an adult son with autism, signs Brandons Bill into law. MT becomes the tenth state to enact autism insurance reform. Brandons Bill was named for Brandon Simonsen, the 5 year old son of Autism Speaks Montana Chapter Advocacy Chair Laura Simonsen who worked tirelessly to organize a network of volunteers over a large region to achieve passage.
May 29, 2009 Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons signs Assembly Bill 162 into law, making NV the eleventh state to enact autism insurance reform. AB 162 was led to passage by a dedicated group of parent volunteers and community leaders in the state, including Ralph Toddre, commissioner of the Nevada Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Supporters held a rally, participated in live hearings in Carson City and televised in Las Vegas, and kept attempts to delay or dismantle the bill at bay.
June 2, 2009 Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr. signs Senate Bill 09-244 into law, making CO the twelfth state to enact autism insurance reform. Several organizations, including Autism Speaks, came together in order to lead the community in getting an amended version of SB 09-244 passed by the State House and agreed to by the State Senate.
June 9, 2009 Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell signs Senate Bill 301 into law, making CT the thirteenth state to enact autism insurance reform. SB 301 captured the dedicated involvement of many state legislators even before it was officially introduced. Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney and Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan, the bills prime sponsors, held a press conference, spoke at the Autism Speaks rally, and worked tirelessly to gather the support of their legislative colleagues to ensure passage of SB 301.
June 29, 2009 Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle enacts autism insurance reform by signing the states budget bill into law. WI becomes the fourteenth state to enact autism insurance reform. Originally introduced as Senate Bill 3, the sponsors of the bill were able to incorporate autism insurance reform as a provision of the states FY2009 budget bill (ASA 1/SSA 1).
- August 13, 2009 New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signs S. 1651 into law, making NJ the fifteenth state to enact autism insurance reform. Autism Speaks Co-Founder Bob Wright testified in support of the bill at a hearing held by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Imagine the outrage if insurance companies refused to cover necessary treatments for children with cancer or diabetes, said Wright in his testimony. That is exactly what is happening with autism, and it must come to an end right now. With the leadership of State Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts and the commitment of so many dedicated parent volunteers, S. 1651 moved quickly towards passage.
There remain thirty-five states where insurers explicitly exclude coverage of medically necessary, evidence-based autism therapies from policies. Families in these states face a significant financial burden as they seek to provide their children with necessary services. However, with every state bill that passes, a national wave is being created by families, state legislators, and organizations. This wave will soon crash upon our nations capitol, urging Congress to act to outlaw the discriminatory practices of insurance companies against individuals with autism in every state and for every type of insurance plan.
The good news is that Congress is already beginning to listen. In April, Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Robert Menedez (D-NJ) introduced the Autism Treatment Acceleration Act (ATAA), in which a key provision requires insurance companies to provide coverage of medically necessary autism therapies. In July, the House version of the overall health care reform bill, H.R. 3200 Americas Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, was amended by Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) to contain a provision that includes behavioral health treatments as part of the essential benefits package. Consideration by Senate Finance Committee is pending and will resume September 8.
As we embark on the fall legislative season, Autism Speaks encourages everyone to call their member of Congress and Senators and urge them to support the autism insurance reform provision of H.R. 3200. To find your federal legislators or for more information on Autism Speaks state and federal initiatives, please visit www.autismvotes.org.
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