By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The National Autism Law Summit was held in San Diego, California. Several members of the Alabama legislative delegation were awarded as legislative champions for their efforts to pass legislation requiring that insurers cover autism therapy. State Representative Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, state Senate Tom Whatley, R-Lee County, and Senate Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, shared in the group’s Legislator of the Year award for their efforts.
Whatley said on social media, “Honored to be named National Legislator of the year along with Mac McCutcheon, Cam Ward & Jim Patterson at the National #Autism Law Summit. Great work here that will benefit so many #Alabama #Families. Dick Brewbaker deserves mention here as well, he pushed the ball over the goal line.”
In April, the Alabama House of Representatives passed House Bill 284 100-0. McCutcheon fast-tracked the bill through the House.
HB284 extended 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 Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville. Patterson said, at the time, “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 Patterson told reporters, “This is not my bill. This comes from above. This is why you come down here. To do what is right.”
Alabama was one of the last five states to cover this.
Dozens of families with autistic children flooded the statehouse before the vote to lobby for the bill. Patterson acknowledging the families in attendance in the gallery said, “This is not my bill this is the people up there in the galleries bill.”
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.”
Daniels sponsored the amendment that requires the coverage be made available to low-income families through the Alabama Medicaid Agency. 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 moved to the Senate for consideration. The bill was surprisingly controversial during the 2017 session. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama originally opposed the legislation, but reversed their position as the public pressure increased. The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) staunchly opposed the legislation and their Senate allies tried to bury it in committee until the session ended, but autism advocates led by Whatley and Ward demanded that the bill be allowed to come on the floor where it passed.
An angry BCA head, Billy Canary, did not invite Ward and Patterson to the group’s annual legislative gathering by the ocean in retaliation for the stunning defeat.
The four legislators were specially recognized as legislative champions in the celebration of Alabama’s status as the 46th state to pass an autism insurance law.
Jim Patterson passed away from a heart attack before he could receive his award. Patterson was memorialized by the other three legislators in his presentation as Legislator of the Year.
Other awards and winners were: Expansion Award 2017 – Josh Cobbs; Implementation Award 2017 – Julie Kornack; International Award 2017 – Jana Gandalovicova; Provider of the Year 2017 – LittleStar ABA Therapy; Rookies of the Year 2017 – Beth Mauch, Sandy Smith, Samantha Stewart & Kristin Sharbono; and Sustained Outstanding Advocacy 2017 – Kristin Jacobson.