Smith turns up the heat on autism insurance coverage

[private]Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) is escalating the battle between the House and Senate over legislation that would mandate health insurers to provide coverage for autism treatments for young children.

In a speech to his House colleagues Wednesday, Smith declared that SB 1, which would require insurers to cover autism treatments for children up to age 6, is not going to move out of the Insurance Committee that he chairs.

“I will not let it out for a vote,” Smith said. “I will not pass that bill out of insurance. I’m getting a lot of flak on that and I know you’re getting a lot of flak too.”

SB 1 has passed the Senate unanimously for two years running and is actively backed by that chamber’s leadership, but it has not been able to get out of committee in the House in either session.

Smith contended that SB 1 is “bad policy” because it only covers autistic children who are six and under.

He said he is having a bill drafted that would call a statewide referendum on a 0.2 percent sales tax to pay for autism treatments for everyone up to the age of 18. The fractional sales would raise up to $200 million to $300 million a year, Smith said.

“I’m telling those people across the way, it’s time to either put up or shut up,” Smith said. “Let’s work so that all children will get treatment for autism.”

Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), the sponsor of SB 1, said that “Richard Smith is my friend,” but insisted that SB 1 provided the best opportunity to do something about coverage of autism.

“If they pass that proposal, I’ll be very interested in seeing it,” Bethel said, noting that was too late in the session for Smith’s bill get a vote this year.

“Until then, ours is the only workable step in play,” Bethel said.

The tiff between Smith and Bethel is a classic example of a legislative practice known as “hostage-taking” — keeping bills from being considered in one chamber to put pressure on the other chamber to take action on a favored bill.

Bethel is chairman of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee that is considering HB 190, a bill that would require ride-share services like Uber and Lyft to maintain commercial liability insurance coverage for the drivers they employ. Smith is one of the co-sponsors of that bill.

Bethel’s committee is keeping Smith’s bill under wraps as well, although Bethel said, “We intend to vote on a committee substitute (to HB 190) today.”

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: autism insurance coverage , Charlie Bethel , Richard Smith