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By RON JENKINS
Associated Press Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma Senate Democrats said they are amazed that some insurance companies pay for treating erectile dysfunction, while denying coverage for autism.
All 22 Democrats in the 48-member Senate signed a letter on Wednesday asking for a cost savings analysis in the event lawmakers barred insurance companies from covering ED if they refuse to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.
The letter was sent to Bill W. Crain, administrator of the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board.
"It is our understanding that insurance companies will pay for you to buy Viagra but they won't cover treatment for autism," said Sen. Charles Laster of Shawnee, Democratic minority leader.
"We just think it is bad policy that insurance companies get away with covering such nonessential things as treatment for ED and yet they are being protected for having to provide treatment for autism," he added.
He said he was sure many would argue that ED treatment is not nonessential "but from a public policy standpoint, I think it is pretty minor when compared with the thousands of kids out there with autism."
"It's just a discussion of priorities. Is health coverage for ED more important than coverage for autism?" added Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, former state secretary of health.
Bills to require autism coverage have died in House and Senate committees this session after opposition from Republicans who say such mandates will cause insurance rates to increase significantly.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, had no comment on the Democrats' latest tactic to keep the issue alive.
Members of the Democratic caucus plan a press conference Thursday during which they said they would "express frustration over Senate Republicans' disturbing pattern of protecting insurance companies on the backs of Oklahoma's working and middle class."
Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, is the main sponsor of the autism coverage bill that died in committee.
Gumm said he has an amendment planned for a tax bill that would prohibit insurance companies from qualifying for premium tax credits or job creation incentives if they do not cover autism.
He said he has prepared another amendment to require the Oklahoma High Risk Insurance Pool to cover autism.
He said neither proposal would be a mandate on private insurance companies.