Atlanta - A state House committee will hold a hearing this afternoon on a bill that would force insurance companies to cover autism treatment for kids through age 6.
The measure, which passed the state Senate unanimously early in the legislative session, would raise insurance premiums by a few dollars.
But Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) has blocked passage of the bill in the House. As chairman of the House Insurance Committee, he says the bill would only impact around 15 percent of the state’s population who work for small companies.
“Because your large self-insured companies are federally regulated, we have absolutely no say so in what they do or what they do not do,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.
Smith says he has no plans to vote on the bill as it currently is written.
“We’re telling small business or those that are self-insured, ‘we’re going to raise your premiums to cover this’; and I have an issue with that,” he says.
But Tricia Harris of LaFayette says insurance companies should have been paying for the treatment all along calling it’s a neurological disorder. She has been lobbying lawmakers all session on behalf of her 2-year-old son Caleb who has autism.
“Arguably the insurance companies took a free ride for over ten years at the expense of our kids; they should have been covering it,” she says.
Harris pays out of pocket for her son’s treatment, but says there are many other parents who can’t afford it. Statics show one in 68 kids are diagnosed with autism in the U.S. each year.
“Thirty-eight states have passed these mandates, so you have to ask yourself why this mandate is necessary to begin with,” she says.
Last year the state Senate attached its autism legislation onto the House medical marijuana bill in an effort to get it through. The House baulked and neither bill passed.
This year, the Senate has come around to the House version of medical marijuana legislation which is expected to receive final passage as soon as this week. But the same fate isn’t likely for the autism bill.
“I don’t pass legislation out that I don’t feel is ready,” says Smith.