By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, April 20, 2017, the Alabama House of Representatives passed House Bill 284.
HB284 extends coverage for Autism therapy and ensures access to those services for low-income families, passed out of the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.
HB284 was sponsored by state Representative Jim Patterson (R-Meridianville). Patterson said, “This is why we come to Montgomery: to make a difference in people’s lives. If we can get therapy to autistic children when they are two to three years old, that they will be more ready to start school and do well and the more likely that they can succeed in school and in life.” A tearful Rep. Patterson told reporters, “This is not my bill. This comes from above. This is why you come down here. To do what is right.”
The original version of the bill just ordered health insurance companies to provide Autism therapy coverage as part of medical insurance (currently they do not), but Patterson said, “Over half of the children in Alabama are actually insured by the State of Alabama through the All Kids program.”
The State of Alabama uses Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBSAL) to provide medical, and mental health and substance abuse services through their preferred provider network (PPO). ALL Kids is Alabama’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and is administered by the Alabama Department of Public Health. Legislators had some debate as to why children who were getting through a state program were not already receiving autism treatment coverage and many felt that they should have been getting the coverage now; but they aren’t so Rep. Patterson amended his bill from the floor of the House to make certain that low income kids on ALL Kids get autism treatment coverage as well.
Rep. Patterson said that Alabama would be joining 45 other states who requires that medical insurance have such coverage for Autistic children. Rep. Patterson said: I don’t like to dictate to companies how to do their business; but this is insurance and dictating to them to offer this
Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) told Patterson. I want to thank you for bringing this bill. I have friends that spent $40,000 out of their own pocket for Autism therapy. It is disappointing that we are one of the last five states to cover this.”
Dozens of families with autistic children flooded the statehouse on Thursday to lobby for the bill. Rep. Patterson acknowledging the families (most of them wearing red T-shirts promoting Autism coverage) in attendance in the gallery said, “This is not my bill this is the people up there in the galleries bill.”
There was a lot of concern about how much this is going to cost.
State Representative Phil Williams (R-Hintsville) said on Facebook, “We are debating a bill that will mandate unlimited coverage for Autism.If this bill ever became law, your policy would we immediately modified to cover a wide spectrum of autistic related disease. So far there is no meaningful discussion of who pays for this. No one is really sure what it will cost.”
State Representative Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) said that passing this could be a $2.5 million to $19 million increase to the State employees insurance costs. It would also affect the teacher’s insurance through PEEHIP. This could cost CHIP (the ALL Kids program) $17.5 million a year. Currently the federal government is picking up almost all of the cost of CHIP (the ALL Kids program), but if we go back to an 80 percent federal: 20 percent state match as part of federal health care reform then this could cost the state $3.5 million.
Clouse if the Ways & Means General Fund Committee Chairman and said, “This did not go through the General Fund committee.” “We don’t know what is going to happen federally with healthcare.” “If we are back here in the summer (in a Special Session) dealing with the CHIPs program we have to have more money.”
Rep. Patterson said that based on Louisiana, when they added this our costs would go up only 62 to 92 cents per month per insure. “That is not too much to pay to do the right thing.”
To address the cost concerns State Representative Jack Williams (R-Vestavia) added an amendment to the bill stating that: If insurance premiums rise more than 1 percent in a year and the independent audit determines that the Autism coverage is responsible for the rate increase; then the business can opt out of the Autism coverage. Williams’ amendment would also cap the amount of Autism service coverage each Autistic child cold receive a year. Since therapy has most benefit to small children the Williams amendment would pay up to $40,000 per year for Autism treatment for the youngest children and then declines on a sliding scale for older children.
Rep. Williams said, We are paying for it (Autism) now thru the Education Trust Fund and we are not getting the results that we need. Only 1 out of 8 children with Autism receive treatment now.
Rep. Patterson said that Auburn University and Jacksonville University have excellent programs to train Autism therapists; but their graduates are leaving this State and practicing in other states because we don’t have coverage. This bill would also be creating job opportunities across Alabama.
Patterson said that, “If children get treatment early they may need some help in transitions to school, from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to the job market; but other than that they will be able to live productive lives and be quite successful. This would be taking a tremendous burden off of the Educational Trust Fund by treating this early rather than waiting and then having to offer special education services throughout school with a less favorable outcome.”
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) said in a statement, “I am ecstatic that all children, regardless of their parents income, will now have access to these essential services. Autism does not discriminate and neither should we.”
Rep. Daniels sponsored the amendment that requires the coverage be made available to low-income families through the Alabama Medicaid Agency.
At a meeting of the Insurance Committee last week, Rep. Jim Patterson, who is the sponsor of HB284, supported the amendment as did Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) and Louise Alexander (D-Bessemer) and a number of Republican Legislators.
Daniels said, “Getting this Legislation passed for children around the state is a great reminder of the difference we can make when we work together.”
The bill passed 100 to 0 and now moves to the Senate for consideration. At this point it appears that the bill will be assigned to the Senate Health Committee.
There still is no coverage in Alabama for ADHD treatment.