Friday, June 13, 2008

Autism Insurance Push Makes National News

The State of Oklahoma

Atoka, Bryan, Coal, Johnston & Marshall Counties

June 13, 2008

Contact: Senator Jay Paul Gumm

State Capitol: (405) 521-5586
Durant: (580) 924-2221
Mobile: (580) 920-6990

Autism Insurance Push Makes National News
Pressure Will Continue to Build in Oklahoma As Well, Gumm Says
OKLAHOMA CITY – A national news program this week highlighted the growing epidemic of children with autism and the push by parents to force health insurance to cover diagnosis and treatment of the disorder.

NBC’s “The Today Show” aired a segment Thursday (June 12) as part of a continuing series of reports on autism. The story featured parents who are encouraging state legislatures across the nation to pass laws requiring coverage of autism diagnosis and treatment.
One of the most closely watched battles of the recently concluded 2008 session of the Oklahoma Legislature was the effort to pass an autism insurance bill. Written by Senator Jay Paul Gumm, the bill – known as “Nick’s Law” – passed the Senate on four separate occasions, each time on bipartisan votes.

When the proposal arrived in the House of Representatives, it was killed each time when Republican leaders – led by Speaker Chris Benge – refused to even allow the bill to be heard.

“If the Speaker thought that getting out of session would ease the pressure on him and his cabal to do the right thing, he made a serious miscalculation,” said Gumm, a Democrat from Durant. “This is a national battle. People are watching, and they expect a fair debate.”

The “Today Show” segment included a statement on the issue by the special interest group representing insurance companies. Gumm said the statement is a “slick attempt” by big insurance to have it both ways.

The insurance lobby conceded in the statement that “medically related care should be covered by insurers.” The problem is, Gumm said, once “medically related care” is coded as “autism,” insurance companies refuse to pay claims.

Then, the lawmaker said, the special interest group unveils its real agenda with the following statement: “For those who need assistance, we should be committing public resources to help fund cost-effective programs to care for those who are diagnosed with autism.”

“The phrase ‘public resources’ is a fancy way of saying ‘taxpayer dollars’,” he said. “Their real agenda is to pass the cost of covering autism on to the taxpayers. That way, insurance companies protect both their robust profits and their ability to fund the political campaigns of politicians who protect them.”

Gumm said the “Today Show” segment makes a fair case in favor of requiring insurers to cover autism diagnosis and treatment. “The segment gives both sides a chance to make their case, and clearly the momentum to pass bills like Nick’s Law is building,” he said.
“Even in deeply ‘red’ Republican states, lawmakers and governors of both parties are putting aside the special interests for the public interest. It’s too bad House leaders could not find it in their hearts or heads to do the same.”

Not every House Republican supported their leadership on the issue; four Republican House members signed a “discharge petition” that would have forced a vote on “Nick’s Law.” Then, before they got the required number of signatures, Gumm said House Republican leaders began enforcing party discipline.

“It’s pretty clear they dropped the hammer, preventing members from doing what their conscience told them was the right thing,” he said. “However, political power in Oklahoma rests with the people not the politicians, and I believe Oklahomans will rise up and force House leadership to get on this train or get run over by it.”

Gumm said he believes when the Oklahoma Legislature returns in February the case to pass Nick’s Law will be greater than ever. “The parents are not going away, and these children are not going away,” he concluded.

“To do nothing – a course of action with which House leadership is content – will condemn children who might be saved by diagnosis and treatment. This is just one case where the values of House leadership are woefully out of step with the people they were truly elected to serve.”

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