An agreement that will allow some children with autism to be covered by insurance has been reached between the chairmen of the House and Senate insurance committee. In a press conference this afternoon at the Capitol, Charlie Bethel and Richard Smith announced that Bethel’s Senate Bill 1 will be merged with House Bill 429 at an 8 AM Senate Insurance committee on Friday. SB1 will be modified in two ways: The annual limit on benefits will be reduced from $35,000 to $30,000, and a sunset provision will be added to the bill such that if the plan announced by Smith this morning is implemented, the mandate in SB1 will end.
Both chairmen expect that the combined bill will easily pass the Senate, and the modified bill should be accepted by the House, which has already approved the non0=amended version. The law would take effect this year.
The proposed .2 cent sales tax would provide benefits for all autistic children up to 18 years old. Before it goes into effect, voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment, presumably in the fall of 2016. Should the voters not approve the tax, the provisions of SB1, which mandates insurance benefits for autistic children up to age 3 would remain in effect.
The possibility of a way to insure or treat children with autism is still alive at the Georgia Legislature, despite several setbacks. An effort to provide insurance coverage to children up to six years old failed during the 2014 session, as the House and Senate could not agree on Rep. Allen Peake’s medical marijuana bill. This year, Peake’s House Bill 1 is awaiting Governor Deal’s signature, while Senate Bill 1, one of the Senate Majority Caucus’s priorities for the session, remains stalled in the House. The bill received a hearing on Monday and remarks by House Insurance Chair Richard Smith afterwards cast doubt on whether the bill would advance.
In a Senate committee hearing, the contents of Senate Bill 1 were substituted into House Bill 162, giving the autism measure another chance at passage. The bill, carried in the Senate by P.K. Martin of Lawrenceville, is expected to be easily passed by the full Senate. The original bill would have set up parameters for insurance companies to conduct internal evaluations in order to ensure compliance with regulations–certainly not a bill of importance enough to set up a major battle with the House.
Meanwhile, Smith has his own idea for providing autism treatment. According to Sandra Parrish of WSB Radio, it would involve voters approving a constitutional amendment authorizing a two tenths of a percent sales tax. The approximately two to three hundred million dollars the tax would raise would provide coverage for all autistic children up to the age of 18.
With four days left in the session, including today, Smith’s bill is unlikely to advance very far this year.