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Autism insurance bill wins House approval in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill on July 15 sponsored by Speaker Dennis O'Brien to end widespread discrimination by private health insurance companies by requiring them to provide coverage for autism-related services. "This bill will open the doors to medical care, accurate diagnosis, and intervention and support services for Pennsylvanians with autism," O'Brien said. "It will also strengthen the state's network of service providers and researchers, which is already world-class."

On July 13, the House adopted an amendment offered by O'Brien to address concerns that were raised by insurance companies. The House then defeated several amendments that O'Brien opposed which would have weakened parts of the bill. The measure (H.B. 1150) passed unanimously and now goes to the Senate for consideration. Among its strong advocates were the majority and minority chairmen of the House Insurance Committee, Reps. Tony DeLuca, D-Allegheny, and Nick Micozzie, R-Delaware.

Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, also provided important legislative help when the bill was considered by the Insurance Committee.

"The human toll caused by the refusal of insurers to provide this coverage is immense. Families are under stress, their finances under attack, and without early diagnosis and intervention services the futures of thousands of young Pennsylvanians are slipping away... This is, quite simply, an issue of civil rights for thousands of Pennsylvanians," O'Brien said. "It's a matter of justice."

His measure would require private insurers to cover up to $36,000 per year for autism services. Because coverage denied by private insurance is now paid for by the state, it is estimated this measure will save state taxpayers at least $22 million per year in payments by the Medical Assistance program. If an individual's annual treatment costs exceed the $36,000 paid by a private insurer, then the state will assume the additional costs.

"The legislation passed by the House will help to ensure the Medical Assistance program is serving its intended role as a safety net, not as the sole provider of care...This bill will open doors of hope and development for those living with autism," he said. "By increasing access to medical care and accurate diagnosis, it will pierce the darkness of the autism avalanche."

Pennsylvania's medical and research communities are poised to be leaders in the international response to autism, which according to the Centers for Disease Control afflicts at least one in 150 children born in the United States. The fight to help children with autism spectrum disorders has been a top legislative priority of O'Brien for many years. When he became Speaker in January, he made a commitment to use his increased visibility to help children and young adults with disabilities.

Both the autism-coverage mandate legislation and a Blues' merger bill are awaiting action in the House.

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Title Annotation:WHAT'S HAPPENING
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2007
Words:460
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