Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nick's Law dies on the second day

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND February 04, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY — In its second day of session, it took the House Economic Development Committee less than three hours Tuesday to virtually kill any hope for Nick’s Law to be voted on by the House this year. Parents of children living with autism appeared disheartened while leaving the Capitol building.

The vote was 9 to 5 with Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City, abstaining.
“We’re totally disappointed,” said Wayne Rohde, whose son Nicholas is the namesake of House Bill 1312. “The members didn’t want to listen to more facts about the debate.”

Rohde, of Edmond, said committee members were mislead by the House actuary report conducted by Thomas Cummins. The Cummins report determined that Nick’s Law could raise insurance premiums from 7.8 percent to 19.8 percent.

“It’s just bad policy to provide information and make policy decisions on that when it’s factually incorrect,” Rohde told The Edmond Sun.

In 2007, the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, a research and advocacy association of insurance carriers, reported insurance mandates regarding autism will have little impact on the cost of health insurance premiums for consumers. The report assessed the incremental cost of state-mandated benefits for autism in 10 states would be less than 1 percent.

The Oklahoma State Education Employees Group Insurance Board recently announced its own study revealed that Nick’s law would have 1 percent or less impact on claims.

“The state of Maryland who issued a peer revue of five different actuaries … reviewed all the states that have passed mandates,” Rohde said. Their findings revealed no increased numbers of the uninsured and found less than a 1 percent increase in insurance rates.

Nick’s Law would have provided insurance coverage for the early diagnosis testing of autism and medications until the child becomes 21 years of age. A financial cap would have covered $50,000 of behavioral therapy per year without lifetime caps in the House plan.

Rohde said eight states have a comprehensive bill similar to Nick’s Law passed into law. Another 10 states have enacted legislation to cover certain segments of mandating insurance coverage for autism. And 33 other states have laws proposed today that include insurance mandates to provide insurance benefits for children with autism.

Cummins told The Sun of his actuary, “It tried to get everybody in Oklahoma who would be covered and how many children would be in that group, who would benefit from autism coverage.”

He said the actuary figures how much additional premium would be charged to cover people who would impacted by Nick’s Law. So what about those families without children living with autism?

“They would not have an increase because they don’t have any exposure,” Cummins told The Sun. Cummins affirmed that his actuary is based solely on families of children with autism.

“To me it’s like — I don’t drive,” Cummins said. “Why would I have to have automobile liability insurance? You ought to spread the cost among people that have some risk.”

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears in children before age 3, according to the Autism Society of America. A complex neurobiological disorder, it impacts areas of the brain responsible for social interaction and communication skills.

The Centers for Disease Control announced in 2007 that one in 150 people has autism. One in every 100 boys has autism. Autism is a quiet epidemic growing at a rate of 10-17 percent per year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Eighty percent of these children are under the age of 14.

Rohde said the committee’s vote will make it difficult for Nick’s Law to survive in the House. “We do have a Senate bill sitting over there,” he said.

The Senate approved a $75,000 financial cap of Nick’s Law in March. But the bill was later blocked when the House Development and Financial Services Committee refused to give it a hearing.

Committee member Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Edmond, was one of the committee members voting against HB 1312, authored by Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah. But Moore was enthusiastic that the committee voted unanimously to approve HB 2027 by Rep. Chris Steele, R-Shawnee, an autism bill to help increase care providers in the state.

“Til we find the funding and getting a number of the people up and running to provide the care as providers, we’re not going to solve the issue,” Moore said. This bill will expand the training of the board certified behavior analysts (BCBA) implemented at the University of Central Oklahoma last year to other parts of the state.

Moore told The Sun there is a better way to help families pay for these services without increasing health coverage mandates. He supports the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs suggestion to target these children without having everyday families’ health care premiums increase.

“How do we come up with that money?” Moore said. “Do we take one day’s take at casinos? Do we do a one-time lottery? Do we take money from the tobacco fund?”
Moore said he would be willing to help create a pool of money to help families manage the cost of applied behavior analysis. This cost is 80 percent of the out-of-pocket expense paid each year by parents of children with autism spectrum, Rohde has said. And the annual cost exceeds $40,000 a year.

“It still needs to be taken care of,” Moore said. “I don’t want to leave those people high and dry. I want to be part of the solution.”

Rohde personally employs a BCBA from Dallas to work with Nick six hours each month. The BCBA works additional hours with two tutors Rohde employs at his home.

“We’re bankrupt,” he said. “Our extended family helps us pay for these bills.”

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