Associated Press Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A Republican plan setting standards for health professionals to treat autism passed the state House on Thursday, a week after a committee controlled by the GOP killed a bill to require insurance companies to cover the disorder.
Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said there is a lack of therapists in Oklahoma to treat autism. He said his bill will create a network of training to increase the number of autism therapists.
"The most important move we can make right now is to increase the number of specialists trained to treat children with autism," Steele said.
No lawmakers opposed the plan, but several questioned how much good it will do if insurance companies are not required to cover autism diagnosis and treatment.
Last week, a committee controlled by the House Republican majority defeated a bill to mandate autism coverage. Families with autistic children have tried to no avail for two years to get mandated coverage.
Reps. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, and Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said Steele's legislation is a step in the right direction, but questioned if it does enough to help families with autistic children.
"They face greater challenges not addressed by this bill, such as paying for costly treatment for their children," Brown said.
"Since many insurance companies don't cover autism, even families who can afford private insurance may not be able to afford treatment. So how will these new providers afford to stay in Oklahoma?"
"My greatest concern is that without a way to ensure these providers a mechanism for payment, we'll experience a brain drain and lose them to other states," Dorman said.
"Training more autism providers is an excellent step in the right direction, but I am concerned especially for people in rural areas that they will still be unable to find autism specialists or pay for their services," he added.
The bill sets up a licensing procedure for autism specialists with the Developmental Disabilities Services Division of the Department of Human Services. Therapists must be certified by the National Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
The measure provides training for treatment of children with autism as part of the Sooner Start program, which provides early intervention and treatment for children with disabilities and developmental problems.