Autism Bill Gets Shut Down at the Finish Line
The house committee shuts down bill during Autism Awareness Month
ALASKA - Alaska will not become the 31st state to require private insurers to include coverage for diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder.
A bill to accomplish that had passed the senate, but seemingly died in a house committee Tuesday.
It's Autism Awareness Month.
At the Indigo Tea Lounge downtown, a display of self-portraits by autistic Alaskans line the back wall.
There’s also awareness of autism at the state Capitol, where advocates of insurance coverage for the condition have pushed hard for the requirement already adopted by 29 states.
The argument is that early diagnosis followed by prompt therapies can make the difference between a productive life or an institutional existence that can cost $3 million over a lifetime.
"This bill, Mr. Chairman, will not only help children, I sincerely believe its passage will save marriages and keep families together,” said Senator Johnny Ellis, (D-Anchorage). “These children are the least among us. We should be looking out for them."
For Representative Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River), father of an autistic son, the issue is personal.
"If this bill is not the best solution, as I’ve heard some people express, it is a solution that is available to us today. If there are other solutions, I’ll be glad to hear them, but every year there's no action, more children” - Saddler choked up briefly - “slip into darkness."
But Representative Wes Keller (R-Wasilla), the chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee, prevented the bill from moving to the house floor.
Keller likes the approach that will soon be law in Michigan, under which the state will reimburse insurers for autism coverage.
"That is the approach that seems so logical to me, is that we put together some kind of autism treatment fund, and take this on head-on instead of coming at it just through the mandate."
"I was disappointed,” said BreeAnn Davis, president of the Stone Soup Group. “Five of the six members of that committee are co-sponsors of the bill. And I know there's been an outcry of support for it."
But it appears dead for this year.
Keller’s committee has shut down for the rest of the legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn by midnight Sunday.
Keller said he doesn't expect it but wouldn't object if the autism bill ended up on a special session agenda proclaimed by Governor Parnell.