House, Senate agree on autism bill

[private]After battling over the issue for the past two sessions, the House and Senate leaders have reached an agreement on legislation that would provide insurance coverage for treating autism in children.

Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) and Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), who were feuding publicly over the autism issue Wednesday, announced Thursday afternoon that they’ve worked out a two-part resolution of the issue.

The language of Bethel’s SB 1, which requires health insurers to cover autism treatments for children up to the age of six, will be merged with HB 429, a bill dealing with end-of-life insurance coverage for terminal patients.

That consolidated bill will be voted out of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee on Friday and put on the Senate calendar for a vote on Tuesday. If the Senate passes the bill, the House will agree to the changes in the measure so that it can go to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Smith is also preparing a bill that would put a sales tax increase of 0.2 percent on the statewide election ballot for November 2016. If the voters adopt that increase, it would generate an estimated $200 million to $300 million a year to cover autism treatments for children up to the age of 18.

The provisions of SB 1 would be terminated if the voters approve Smith’s proposal for funding autism treatments for a larger number of children.

“I won’t have a problem voting for this tax increase,” Smith said. “We have a serious problem and I think this is the best way for addressing this.”

When a reporter reminded Smith that he said on Wednesday, “I will not pass that bill (SB 1) out of my insurance committee,” Smith joked: “It’s not being passed out of my committee – it’s being attached to another bill.”

“I know what I said, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” Smith added.

Bethel said the bills currently under discussion are just a first step in providing coverage for autism treatments: “We’re going to continue addressing autism into the future.”

Autism coverage has been supported by the Senate leadership for the past two sessions, but bills passed by the Senate have stalled in the House. The autism bill has been opposed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations.

The agreement to move ahead with the autism bill represents a defeat for the Chamber of Commerce on this issue.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: autism , Charlie Bethel , insurance coverage , Richard Smith