Friday, February 6, 2009

Crushing Defeat

Autism bill hits major setback

By World's Editorial Writers
Published: 2/6/2009

Disappointment doesn't even begin to describe the dashed hopes of families who had hoped, for the second year in a row, that Oklahoma might join several other states in mandating insurance coverage for treatment of autistic children.

House Bill 1312, "Nick's Law," was defeated in a House committee. While such a measure passed an evenly divided Senate twice last year, a similar bill in this session's Republican-led Senate is unlikely to gain traction.

Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, said of the panel's members: "They tore the Band-Aid off now quickly because they think they won't have to endure the public scrutiny for the next two years. I think that's a serious miscalculation on their part. These families aren't going away. These kids aren't going away."

One in every 150 children struggles with autism, the fastest-growing disability in the nation. Without early, aggressive treatment, autistic children will continue to rely on parents and when those parents die, they likely will become wards of the state, a costly proposition.

A study paid for by the House showed that costs of an autism insurance mandate would lead to a 7.8 percent increase in rates for insured Oklahomans, a figure disputed by bill supporters.

Wayne Rohde of Edmond talked Wednesday to the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee, which opposed any insurance mandates. Nick's Law is named for Rohde's son Nick, 11. Some members of the group suggested that parents should hold fundraisers or move to states that provided coverage. That is insensitive and impractical.

It is difficult to find a silver lining in defeat. The committee did pass another measure that would increase the number of autism therapists in Oklahoma — an urgent need.

Will the families try again? Probably, although the committee chairman warned that similar measures may not be taken up for the next two years. The hard road autistic children must travel in life just got harder.
By World's Editorial Writers

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