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Bill to grow Utah's autism lottery edging closer to passage

Published February 24, 2014 8:53 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A bill that would make permanent Utah's experimental autism "lottery" is speeding through the Legislature.

The $2 million measure, HB88, would continue the program in perpetuity, providing about 270 autistic children annually access to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy through Utah's Medicaid program and a charitable fund fed with private contributions from major employers, such as Zion's Bank. The bill would also require the insurer for state employees, Public Employee Health Plan (PEHP), to cover ABA therapy.

The lottery was created a year ago in lieu of a mandate requiring state-regulated insurers to cover ABA therapy — and has, by all measures, been a success.

Continuing it will help 200 to 300 kids, about 10 percent of those in need of services, said the sponsor of HB88, Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland. "We're making a dent, but we're not solving a problem."

Nevertheless, the bill cleared the Senate Health and Human Services committee on Monday with the blessing of Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, the sponsor of a competing measure that would require insurers to cover autism treatment.

HB88 now has one final stop in the Senate before going to the governor's desk for his signature. Shiozawa's bill, SB57, won committee endorsement but hasn't made it through the full House or Senate.

But Shiozawa and the advocacy group Autism Speaks see the two bills as complementary.

Menlove's bill would cover low-income families and those enrolled in PEHP and Shiozawa's bill would cover a portion of Utah's privately insured, easing pressure on the Medicaid lottery, said John Owen, director of the Utah Autism Coalition.

Utah is one of 16 states that don't require insurers to cover autism treatment — despite repeated attempts at insurance reform.

kstewart@sltrib.com