Friday, February 6, 2009

House Committee Fails Nick's Law

House Committee Fails Nick's Law

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009; Posted 6.40 pm (CDT)

Nick's Law, which would mandate autism coverage by insurance, failed 10 to five Tuesday evening in the Oklahoma House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee.

Only eight U.S. states have passed mandated autism coverage, but more than 30 states are either introducing or re-introducing that mandate this year.

The day after a plea from Governor Brad Henry, the committee brought the emotional topic of Nick's Law up for a vote.

"Last year we could not get a House hearing," says Wayne Rohde, a supporter of Nick's Law. "This year they've granted us one. It doesn't mean we'll have our day in the sun, so to speak, but at least we'll have a hearing for it."

Some saw the rushed schedule of hearing Nick's Law on the second day of session as a way of getting it out of the way.

"This sends up a red flag to me that this is also their answer to alleviate the pressure that they are under all across the state to do the right thing and pass this legislation," says Rep. Mike Brown, D-District 4, author of Nick's Law for the House.

After an exhausting and discouraging session last year for the many supporting autism coverage by insurance, parents and lawmakers were back for the same fight.

"I'm optimistic that House Bill 1312 will get a hearing, but I'm also very skeptical the bill will ever get past committee," says Brown.

Those affected by autism filled rooms in hopes their presence would sway a favorable vote. Wayne Rohde, a father of twins with one autistic, has been at the forefront of this battle, recognized by the autism coverage bill named after his son, Nick.

"The children don't care whether they're Republican or Democrat. They've got autism," says Brown.

But the vast majority of Republicans remain unconvinced, citing a possible increase in insurance costs, which could lead to more uninsured Oklahomans.

"Every excuse promoted last year has been disproved," says Brown.

Supporters argue that with so many affected, autism coverage shouldn't be a debate but a right.

Since Nick's Law failed in House committee, House rules state the House will not hear the bill in its current form for the next two years.

House Bill 2027 was also heard in the same committee meeting, authored by Rep. Kris Steele, R-District 26. That deals with increasing trained care providers for autistic children. It passed unanimously.

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