House Bill 1150 must still win approval in the Senate, which has passed its own autism insurance coverage measure. The Associated Press report noted that a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi of Delaware County "said the chamber probably would not take up the measure before the summer recess." As of this writing, it's not clear whether that means the bill is dead for this legislative session or not; Pennsylvania's General Assembly and Governor Ed Rendell today appeared to be ending a long budget battle, already two weeks into the new fiscal year, that included a partial government shutdown.
There was significant momentum for legislation to support people with autism in the state this year. Pennsylvania House Speaker Dennis O'Brien, a Philadelphia Republican, has an autistic nephew and made bolstering services a key personal agenda item. On June 27, the governor issued a statement urging the House to pass the autism insurance bill version already approved by the state's Senate.
Then came two weeks of delays, which advocates for autistic children at the Pittsburgh-based AutismLink.com attributed to Rep. Steve Nickol, a Republican from Hanover, Pa., who has sat on the House finance and insurance committees.
While Nickol's tactics frustrated autism advocates, another group in the state, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, issued a statement July 16 praising Nickol and another Republican lawmaker, Scott Boyd of Lancaster, for working to minimize the impact the insurance legislation would have on businesses. In the end, both Nickol and Boyd voted in favor of the bill along with 192 other representatives.
The PA Chamber's statement is important to note for its argument opposing autism services coverage as a mandate imposed on businesses that raise costs. As in other business lobbying efforts in states like Texas and South Carolina, the business group professes nothing but sympathy for families coping with autism; it's just that businesses can't afford additional insurance costs. The statement, which you can read in full here, includes this passage:
"With employers of all sizes struggling with rising health-care costs and double-digit premium increases, passage of this mandate will result in additional premium increases of at least four percent," said Floyd Warner, president of the PA Chamber.
"The chamber sympathizes with families caring for autistic children and recognizes the complexity of this issue, as it also recognizes the difficulties faced by anyone who is or has a friend or family member battling a specific illness or condition for which new mandates are being proposed," Warner said. "But this mandate was rushed through the legislative process without sufficient discussion."
The Chamber's statement makes it sound like sufficient discussion would of course mean no action that caused business costs to rise; no autism insurance bill.
This is an important issue for parents and families to think about; it gets at a several central concerns related to the delivery of autism services: Who should pay for them? What is the best way to deliver them? How can we as a society handle this issue which often has both educational and health care components? Right now, states are leading the way in discussing these questions.
Note to readers: you can read the text of HB 1150 and see how the voting went by searching for it at the General Assembly's website, at www.legis.state.pa.us. Use the box in the upper right corner that says "find legislation by." Click on "bill number" and enter "HB 1150" in the box. Hit enter.
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