From Press & Staff Reports
The Mississippi House Insurance Committee has unanimously approved autism insurance reform legislation that would require coverage of the screening, diagnosis and treatment, including applied behavior analysis of autism for state employees and teachers.
For parent advocate and Eupora native Quess Hood, the committee’s decision is a personal victory. His 6-year-old son, Jasper, is diagnosed with autism.
“What this (bill) means to us is our son could be a taxpayer one day if this was made into law,” said Hood, now of Ripley and a teacher at Ripley High. “If not, he will have to depend on taxpayers to take care of him. More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined.”
The vote came Jan. 23 as Autism Speaks gave the legislation its endorsement.
Rep. Steve Massengill of Hickory Flat is sponsoring House Bill 542 in the House of Representatives; Sen. Rita Potts Parks of Corinth, who vice chairs the Senate Insurance Committee, introduced the Senate version, Senate Bill 2679. The bill moves next to the House Appropriations Committee.
As introduced, the bills would take effect July 1 if enacted. The Mississippi State and School Employees Health Insurance Plan covers 31,000 enrollees.
“We commend Rep. Massengill and Sen. Parks for their leadership on behalf of the thousands of Mississippi families dealing with autism,”” said attorney Lorri Unumb, Autism Speaks vice president for state government affairs. “Autism Speaks is proud to join Mississippi’s autism community in calling on the Legislature to approve this legislation so that Mississippi can join the 34 other states that require coverage for medically necessary treatments for autism.”
In addition to ABA treatment, the bill would require coverage for autism-related psychiatric, psychological, pharmaceutical and therapeutic care, such as speech, occupational and physical therapy. The bills set no dollar caps or limits on visits.
“We are thrilled by today’s House Insurance Committee vote,” Shelley Hendrix, Autism Speaks director of grassroots development, said Jan. 23. “Families in Mississippi have watched as kids in Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and 31 other states have gained autism insurance coverage and they are no longer willing to wait. Today’s unanimous vote sends them a strong message.”
Mississippi is one of four Southern states considering autism insurance reform legislation this year. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has included autism coverage for state employees and teachers in his state budget proposal; in addition, legislation providing even broader coverage remains before the Legislature.
The North Carolina Senate will take up a bill passed 105-7 by the House last year. In Tennessee, autism advocates and representatives from the insurance industry have been negotiating a bill that is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday before the House Insurance and Banking Committee.
In addition, autism legislation has been reintroduced in Hawaii and action on bills to expand coverage under existing laws is expected in Kansas and Maine
This article includes reporting by Staff Writer Daniel Brunty.