Tentative OK for autism bill

Published February 18, 2009 8:23 pm

Insurance coverage » Opponents say it will bring higher premiums for others.
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A bill that would require insurance companies to cover treatment for children with autism won tentative approval from the Senate on Wednesday, despite questions about whether it places a mandate on insurance companies.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who sponsored the bill, said families are paying for insurance polices that refuse to cover autism treatment. Under the existing insurance framework, he said, requiring the coverage is the only option.

"Please, let's don't sentence any more of them to a life trapped inside their bodies," Stephenson said.

Opponents said the mandatory coverage would only benefit a third of those diagnosed with autism and result in higher premiums for other insurance subscribers, potentially prompting some employers to drop their coverage.

"The company doesn't pay. We pay. You and I," said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.

The Senate, which typically only entertains debate among senators, took the unusual step of hearing directly from supporters of the bill, including 8-year-old Clay Whiffen, the poster child for the cause.

"We all deserve to live fulfilling and happy lives," Whiffen told senators. "I believe every kid should have the same chance I've had and, believe me, just being a kid is hard enough, but when a kid has autism, it's even worse."

The measure survived on a 17-11 vote, but at least four senators expressed reservations about the bill and wanted to see changes, meaning they might not necessarily vote for it when it comes up for final passage.

Even if the bill passes the Senate and House, lawmakers would have to find $1.9 million to cover costs to the state for implementing the bill -- a difficult task given the current budget shortfalls.

Bill proposal

HB43 » Dubbed Clay's Law, the bill would require insurance companies to cover treatment for children with autism.

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