Senate will try again on autism coverage bill

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When the Georgia Senate considers the passage of SB 1 this session, the bill’s language will probably sound very familiar to capitol observers.

That could be because SB 1 is identical in wording to a bill the Senate passed last year that would require health insurers to cover a limited amount of treatments for children with autism.

“We introduced it exactly as it passed the Senate last year,” said Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), the bill’s author.

The sponsors of SB 1 include the Senate’s top Republican and Democratic leaders and it also has the backing of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who said in a recent interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kristina Torres, “I’m very, very passionate about the passage of the autism bill.”

SB 1 is assured of getting out of committee – Bethel chairs the Insurance and Labor Committee to which it was assigned – and the Senate could pass it on a unanimous vote, as it did last year.

The stage would then be set for another potential struggle with the House of Representatives, which declined to pass the bill last year and whose leadership still maintains some skepticism about it.

“The question I’ve never been able to get answered is what the cost would be,” said House Speaker David Ralston when asked about the autism bill.

“I will not ever minimize the cost of covering the kids,” Bethel said. “There is a greater cost associated with maintaining the status quo without doing anything for these kids.”

Bethel said the bill would limit coverage to children aged 6 and under, would cap the annual costs of treatment at $35,000 per policyholder, and provides an exemption if the cost of treatments exceeds 1 percent of the premiums paid on all policies.

“This is a less expensive alternative to the current method of treating,” he said. “It’s like transportation – we can’t afford to fix our roads, but we can’t afford not to.”

Last year, the Senate-passed autism bill was attached as an amendment to the House-passed bill legalizing medical marijuana in the closing days of the legislative session. When the two chambers could not reach an agreement, both bills were killed.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: autism coverage , Casey Cagle , Charlie Bethel , David Ralston