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Bill Would Extend Healthcare Coverage for Autistic Children

Susan Britt

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By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, a bill addressing insurance coverage concerning autism passed unanimously out of the Senate Health Committee, SB283. Sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), would mandate expanded healthcare coverage for children with autism ages 9 and under. It includes behavioral health treatment will include pharmacy care, psychiatric care, psychological care, and therapeutic care.

The bill would extend the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism spectrum disorder that are not already covered by a health insurance policy. It would also require that the coverage may not be subject to dollar limits, deductibles or coinsurance provisions are comparable to the same as applied to those with a physical illness generally covered under the same health insurance plan.

Since current therapy visits are limited to 30 this bill would extend coverage be “not be subject to any limits on the number of visits an individual may make for the treatment of autism.”

Behavioral therapy will be subject to a $50,000 maximum benefit per year. and will be adjusted annually according to the standards of “Medical Care Component of Consumer Price Index, All Urban Consumers.”

During last week’s public hearing, Sen. Ward said, “I toured around this state for three years and met with families in metropolitan areas, rural areas and suburban areas and one thing that always struck me was this, when you look at a child with autism or an adult with autism you realize it is a lifelong disorder.

“The look in their face and the despair of those families were the same regardless if I was in the Black Belt or if I was in Mountain Brook, Alabama. It was that same look of helplessness, the same look of people who were crying out for assistance and we are not doing anything about it. And no it is not solely up to the insurance companies to do something about it, they are a large piece of the puzzle though.”

In the last 12 years the state of Alabama education system has seen and increase in the number of students diagnosed increase by 3,367 percent. “If that were any other disorder it would be an epidemic,” said Sen. Ward. “Autism does not discriminate based upon demographics.”

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One in 110 girls are born with autism as compared with one in 70 boys.

“There will be a lot of conversations in the days and weeks ahead on this. One way or the other this bill will pass, I hope. If it does not, just know that I will continue working and I will never quit working on it,” promised Sen. Ward.

Speaking as a proponent of the bill, Julie Ward of Alabaster is a small business owner, an autism mom to Riley, and Sen. Ward’s wife.

Exerpts from her statement:

“All babies don’t come into this world equipped equally. Some come early, they are premies, some have birth defects, some may have a disease when they are born. My baby came with autism.

“If you haven’t been touched by this, you will be soon. It may be a grandchild or a child of a church member

“It takes huge amount of therapy. It takes constant therapy or they regress back and you lose what you already had. It takes occupational, speech, behavioral and physical therapy. It’s not just a put a cast on it and fix a broken arm.

“When Riley was beginning to make progress their insurance “maxed out.” They had received their 30 visits.

“That’s where you make a decision. Do you wait a year? Or do you hope for the best and wait for the insurance to kick back in? Or do you take a different road and take a bull by the horns and do this yourself?

“We got out our checkbook and assembled the best team we could buy. We started with occupational therapists, we had people in our home, we enrolled her in preschool full-time for two years that was 45 miles from our house. Daddy is a public official, it’s not like we can stay home. We have to get out in public. We hired private community teachers that did nothing but take her to the library to learn how to use “inside voice” and “outside voice.” They were able to take her to birthday parties so she wouldn’t run out of the room when they said, “Happy birthday.”

“A lot of moms put on blinders. You are not dreaming of your child going to Alabama, Auburn or Troy. You are trying to get from breakfast to lunch to dinner and then get up the next morning and do it again. It’s exhausting.

“It doesn’t end. It doesn’t end at 9 [years old]. It doesn’t at 18. It doesn’t end at 50. It’s lifelong and there are different issues everyday.

“There is a huge umbrella of autism. There is severe and there is mild. Our child had the mildest of mild and this is what it took for her. Imagine with someone who is severely affected what you are dealing with.

“When you write your check, you assume it is going to be paid for by that.”

 

Robin Stone from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama spoke in opposition to the bill stating:

“I will tell you what I am not here for. I am not here to tell you that autism should not be covered, we cover autism. The issue here is what is the right level of care, where is the care appropriate? What moves the needle? That is a dialog that we should have and we are more than willing to have.

“I will also tell you, and this is not new news to anybody in this audience or any body in this room, there are no greater champions of autism or people than Cam and Julie Ward.

“We agree with them that autism should be covered and we do cover autism in our policies for all small and medium businesses. What our larger business, more or less self-insurers, do is up to them. They set those plans.

“Our benefits provides coverage of almost all of the areas that are in Senator Ward’s bill. So, in effect a lot of the coverages are already in place. Now the question of whether that coverage goes far enough or deep enough, that is a different discussion that we should have.

“The coverage includes pharmacy care, psychiatric care, phycological care, therapeutic and diagnosis of autism. This is in addition to the regular care that any child with autism receives as for doctors going to the hospital which is virtually unlimited.

“Autistic children do receive healthcare coverage [under Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama coverage].

“Senator Ward have had many discussion and quite frankly I would be disappointed if he didn’t bring this bill.

“Senator Ward’s bill and the House bill would require almost 25,000 small business employers and over 153,000 individuals who purchase individual healthcare plans to purchase expanded policies that would included expanded treatment of autism. By this legislation mandate premiums for about 900,000 people will go up. Any mandate raises costs. Mandates increase utilization and that impacts the costs.

“When small business costs are raised they have to make decisions. Unfortunately small businesses are teetering on  whether or not they want to offer coverage of any kind. Once they leave that, they don’t ever go back.

“Autism is very important and is one of many things that are not mandated in Alabama law.

“Alabama has the second lowest number of mandates in the nation

“Our small businesses are not coming to us asking for extended coverage, they are asking for ways to cut costs.

“I look forward to working with you, Senator Ward, in looking for ways that we can improve the quality of care and also be mindful of costs to the employers in the state of Alabama.”

If this bill passes the Senate and the House it will become effective October 1, 2012.

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National

Mobile removes Confederate monument overnight

Chip Brownlee

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The city of Mobile removed a Confederate monument from downtown overnight following days of protest in Mobile and nationwide over police brutality and systemic racism.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said he ordered the statue removed from its prominent location in downtown Mobile overnight.

“Moving this statue will not change the past,” Stimpson said in a statement on Twitter. “It is about removing a potential distraction so we may focus clearly on the future of our city. That conversation, and the mission to create One Mobile, continues today.”

The 120-year-old statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes, a Confederate Navy admiral, is the second Confederate monument removed in Alabama since protests gripped the nation over the police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“To be clear: This decision is not about Raphael Semmes, it is not about a monument and it is not an attempt to rewrite history,” Stimpson said.

Stimpson said the statue has been placed in a secure location.

Last week, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered a Confederate monument in Linn Park removed. That statue had been at the center of a years-long legal battle between the city of Birmingham and the Alabama Legislature, and Attorney General Steve Marshall has since sued the city a second time seeking a $25,000 fine for removing the monument.

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It is likely that Mobile will also face a similar fine.

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Crime

More prison workers, inmates test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Four more prison workers and three inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced Thursday. 

Workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, the Elmore Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility and the Bibb Correctional Facility self-reported positive coronavirus test results, according to an ADOC press release. 

Fifty-one cases among prison staff remain active while 25 workers who tested positive have been cleared to return to work. 

One inmate at the Easterling Correctional Facility and another at Tutwiler prison were moved into isolated areas in the facilities’ infirmaries after testing positive for the virus, according to the release. There have been 17 confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff at Tutwiler and 2 infected inmates. 

In addition to those two new confirmed cases, an inmate at the St. Clair Correctional Facility who had pre-existing medical conditions was taken to a local hospital after exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, where he tested positive for the virus. 

Thirteen of 22 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates remain active, according to ADOC. 

ADOC has tested 191 of approximately 22,000 inmates as of Wednesday.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | In Alabama, we just keep spinning in the same, sad circle

Josh Moon

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If you don’t learn from history you will be doomed to repeat it. 

Just ask Alabama. 

We’re to the point now in this state where we don’t actually have new events, just new ways to relive the same awful things we did in the past. 

Look at this week. 

There’s a protest in a major city — this time in Huntsville. Cops respond with an absurd show of force and violence — using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against a peaceful crowd. There is national outrage over the images and injuries that result. 

The cops then claim there were “outside anarchists” (the 2020 version of “outside agitators) and they had no choice, because they knew where things were headed (even though there had been no violence or other problems in the previous five hours). The state attorney general “investigates” with a single phone call and backs up the cops without so much as interviewing a single individual who attended the protest. 

Tah-dah. Alabama “justice” is served. 

I think I know what comes next. Because it came next the last several times this same thing happened, with these same responses and this same embarrassment. 

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Some 30 years or so from now, there’ll be a movie or pictures in a history book. Alabama’s people will be portrayed as the ignorant, backwards racists they are. 

Do these people really not see it? Can they not hear themselves? Do they not understand how history will view them? 

Because it’s not hard to figure it out. We’ve all watched the movies and read the books. 

They can pretend it’s not that bad — that they’re right about their decisions to arbitrarily spray tear gas at peaceful protesters and shoot them with rubber bullets. They can attempt to justify that violence against peaceful American citizens by claiming the whole protest was illegal — simply because they said so.  

But it all sounds so stupidly familiar. 

To Alabama State Trooper Maj. John Cloud. Cloud stood at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, as a group of black protesters planning to march from Selma to Montgomery neared the gathered throng of state troopers. That’s when Cloud began ordering them to stop. 

“You are hereby ordered to disperse,” Cloud yelled at the marchers. “I am saying that this is an unlawful assembly. You are ordered to disperse. This march will not continue.”

A day later, in a “Face the Nation” interview, Gov. George Wallace blamed the incident on “outside agitators” and held up newspapers to show that riots were occurring in other states, and police were using force in those cities. 

Remember those words. 

On Thursday, Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray and Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner held a press conference at which they praised themselves and their departments for the response. 

During that press conference, Turner said this: “We gave them the order that this is unlawful — I gave it three or four different times. At that point, you’ve seen what’s going on around the country. Do y’all want that done to your town? We don’t want that done to our town.”

McMurray said: “It was an unauthorized protest against government. That’s what anarchists do. These were non-peaceful agitators. They, by their refusal to obey a lawful order, brought this on themselves.”

Striking, no? 

Now, look, I’m not saying that what happened in Huntsville approaches the level of injustice that took place in Selma 55 years ago, or that the result of the Huntsville debacle will lead to grand changes or even be remembered 10 years from now. 

But I am saying that what we’re witnessing in this country right now is a massive shift — a reckoning the likes of which we haven’t seen in those 55 years. Big changes are coming, finally, to right a whole lot of wrongs and make life much more palatable for a whole lot of people. 

And it’s striking that the same language and attitudes that dominated Alabama back in 1965 — the language and attitudes we all wince at when we hear them in movies or see them in footage from those days — are remarkably similar to what we’re hearing from police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors and state leaders around Alabama. 

Not all of them, but enough that it should embarrass the hell out of us, because here we are again doing the same things, having learned nothing at all from a half-century of shame. 

The people gathered in Huntsville weren’t a problem. They were never going to be a problem. They were in that park to stand up for themselves and their fellow Americans, to protest injustice and racism. 

They weren’t there because they don’t care about America or Alabama or Huntsville. They were there because they do care. 

They see an America that is unfair and uncaring. They see an America that kicks the little guy and pays no attention to laws or constitutional rights. They see an America where minorities — and those who stand up for minorities — routinely get the shaft and no one says a damn word about it unless it’s caught on video. 

And what happened Wednesday night proved them right.

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Economy

Survey shows small businesses are concerned about lawsuits over COVID-19

Brandon Moseley

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A majority of Alabama small business owners surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business said that they are concerned about the possibility of lawsuits related to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the NFIB.

Sixty-nine percent of owners who responded to the online survey say that they are very or moderately concerned about increased liability. Twenty-one percent say they’re not too concerned, while just nine percent say they aren’t concerned at all.

“Even in the best of times, small businesses are often the target of opportunists trying to make a buck by filing a frivolous lawsuit,” NFIB State Director Rosemary Elebash said. “It’s clear from the survey that Alabama small business owners are concerned about the potential for lawsuits to try to exploit the already devastating effects of the coronavirus.”

“During the regular session of the legislature, Sen. Arthur Orr introduced a bill that would provide civil immunity for businesses, healthcare providers, churches, schools, and other organizations in connection with the novel coronavirus during a declared state of emergency,” Elebash said.

“The reasonable measures provided in Senator Orr’s bill would protect businesses struggling to keep their doors open from the risk and expense of lawsuits associated with COVID-19,” Elebash said. “If the legislature is called back for a special session, Senator Orr’s bill will be one of NFIB’s top priorities.”

The Senate wanted to address the Orr bill; but the leadership in the House of Representatives demanded that the legislature deal solely with the budgets, the school buildings bond issue, supplemental appropriations, and local legislation. The legislature left for spring break on March 12; but returned two weeks later on March 31 to a different world. Fears of contracting the virus turned the remainder of the 2020 legislative session into a much abbreviated limited affair more concerned with social distancing than passing legislation.

In other results, the survey respondents said: 70 percent say they’re very or moderately concerned about getting customers back; 69 percent are concerned about managing the health and safety of their customers; 66% are concerned about managing the health and safety of employees; 69 percent are concerned with having to comply with new regulations related to the coronavirus; and 68 percent are concerned about finding an adequate supply of supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

“This has been a challenging spring for Alabama’s small businesses,” Elebash said. “NFIB is committed to working closely with elected officials to develop strategies that allow more businesses to reopen fully so people can get back to work.”

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The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the U.S. economy lost $8 trillion in projected economic growth moving forward due to the COVID-19 crisis and the forced economic shutdowns to fight the spread of the virus and that is could take until 2030 for the economy to fully recover.

The federal government released the May jobs report and unemployment was 13.3 percent which is an unexpected improvement from April’s 14.7 percent

Many businesses are still closed down by government order in states that are reopening more slowly than Alabama. Other businesses can not reopen economically due to social distancing guidelines in place limiting their occupancy and the liability issue only adds another fear that is holding some business owners back, further slowing the economic recovery.

The National Federation of Independent Business is the nation’s leading small business advocacy organization. The NFIB was founded in 1943. 110,173 Americans have died from COVID-19.

To learn more visit their website: www.NFIB.com.

(Original reporting by the Wall Street Journal and CNBC contributed to this post.)

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