Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gov. Brad Henry vetoes insurance bill

Capitol Bureau
Published: April 30, 2009

Gov. Brad Henry on Thursday vetoed a bill that would limit when legislation dealing with the insurance industry could be heard.

House Bill 1975 said insurance legislation could only be introduced in odd-numbered years and approved in even-numbered years. The bill would have also required a 75 percent super-majority vote to do away with the mandate in the case of an emergency.

In the message that accompanied Henry's veto, he said the bill would have unreasonably "tied the hands of state policy makers on a very important issue." “This would empower a small minority of legislators to thwart legitimate state efforts to address a pressing public policy issue and ensure that the restriction would rarely, if ever, be lifted," Henry said.

Henry also questioned why HB 1975 restrictions were only applied to a single issue area, saying it raised legitimate concerns regarding why only one subject would be singled out for special treatment.

“Oklahoma and its citizens are better served when policy makers are allowed the freedom to address any pressing issue in the Legislature without the hindrance of arbitrary restrictions,” Henry said.

Statement from Democratic Leader Charlie Laster on Governor Henry’s Veto of HB 1975

Oklahoma State Senate

April 30, 2009

For Immediate Release
Contact: Amber England, Democratic Communications Director
Oklahoma State Senate

Statement from Democratic Leader Charlie Laster on Governor Henry’s Veto of HB 1975;

Says the Bill did Nothing but Protect the Powerful Insurance Industry

“We knew in January when Senate Republicans changed the rules to include special protection for one specific industry—the powerful insurance industry—we would be faced with a barrage of bills that would make it harder to make health care more affordable for Oklahoma families.

“House Bill 1975 is just one of many bills Republicans have shoved through the legislative process that would provide cover for insurance companies on the backs of Oklahoma families who are desperate to see the insurance coverage they pay for work for them.

“We are grateful to Governor Henry for vetoing this bill that did nothing more than make it harder for the Oklahoma Legislature to bring true insurance reform to this state.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oklahoma State Senate

April 28, 2009

For Immediate Release
Contact: Amber England, Democratic Communications Director
Oklahoma State Senate

Insurance Companies Win Big in Senate GOP’s “First 50 Days”
All the Chest Pounding and “Atta Boys” Can’t Hide GOP Love for Powerful Insurance Industry.

OKLAHOMA CITY—Calling the latest press conference by Senate Republicans nothing but chest pounding and political cover, Democratic Leader Charlie Laster said Oklahomans should be outraged with the outcome of the GOP’s first 50 days.

“The first 50 days of the Senate Republican’s majority has been consumed with stories about tax scandals and a whole lot of love being shown to the powerful insurance industry,” Laster said. “For the past month even newspapers across the state have editorialized about the politics of payback and retaliation that we have seen from the Senate GOP and have mentioned very little, if anything at all, about policies that will help make health care more affordable for Oklahoma families.”

Laster, (D-Shawnee) pointed to the following specific legislation and unprecedented rule changes in the Senate as proof Senate Republicans have been focused solely on protecting insurance companies and engaging in the politics of retaliation instead of focusing on the needs of Oklahoma families.

• A rule change that specifically protects insurance companies in the Senate by requiring Senators to jump through bureaucratic red tape to have a bill heard that would reform the insurance industry.
• Removing Senator Tom Ivester, an Afghan War Veteran, from a task force that studies the education needs of Oklahoma military families days after Coffee called Ivester an “alarmist” for speaking out about possible public prison closings in his district.
• Removing veteran Senators Kenneth Corn, Richard Lerblance and Tom Adelson off committees which they previously chaired, calling them “obstructionists.”
• Refusing to hear legislation that would require insurance companies to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism, routine medical care for Oklahomans who choose to participate in life-saving clinical trials, the right for injured workers to choose their own doctor and putting doctors, not insurance company executives in charge of patient’s health care needs, giving the Insurance Commissioner the ability to investigate arbitrary rate hikes by insurance companies, and legislation that would have allowed Oklahomans to sue insurance companies for arbitrarily raising insurance rates.
• Failure to meet the “Fund Education First” April 1 deadline, leaving thousands of Oklahoma teachers to wonder if they will have a job next school year.
• Legislation that protects insurance companies and giant corporations by making Oklahomans travel out-of-state to seek justice for negligent acts that caused harm to them.
• Passing legislation that would bring divisive Washington DC style politics into Oklahoma by requiring Worker’s Compensation Judges to be confirmed by the State Senate.

Laster said he is also concerned that with only three weeks left in this legislative session and no budget agreement, a special session could be right around the corner.

“Clearly Senator Coffee has been distracted which has left much of the crucial work of the State Senate still on the table,” Laster said. “It is clear Senate Republicans have very little to crow about this session and are simply pounding their chest to make themselves feel better. I hope for the sake of all Oklahomans, they get serious about governing and find some real solutions for Oklahoma families who desperately need our help, and stop this game of protecting insurance companies and petty partisan retaliation which seems to be the crux of the Senate GOP legislative agenda.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

State Dems Send Message

Submitted by dochoc on Tue, 2009-04-28 19:05

Most Oklahoma House Democrats showed real political spunk Monday when they walked out on Republicans after the GOP leadership refused to consider legislation that would mandate insurance companies pay for medical costs associated with autism.

State Rep. Joe Dorman, pictured right, a Rush Springs Democrat, used the word “totalitarian,“ referring to the GOP’s use of parliamentary procedures to deny a vote on the autism issue, and 40 House Democrats walked out of the chamber in a show of solidarity and protest. While the move didn’t budge Republicans, it did send a clear, powerful message that should be repeated often.

This is the message: Democrats continue to work on common sense and important “people” issues such as health care reform as Republicans attempt to push through dead-end cultural wedge issues and ideological-driven legislation, such as criminalizing embryonic stem cell research in the state or establishing a Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol. The GOP’s legislative agenda continues to give the state bad press on a national level.

The walkout also sheds light on how the GOP House majority is shutting down important debate on those critical issues facing Oklahomans that a majority of Democrats want to address and solve.

Democrats have been pushing Nick’s Law for two years now. The law would require health insurance companies in Oklahoma to cover the diagnosis and treatment for autism. The law carries the name of an 11-year-old Edmond by who has the condition.

The Republicans contends Nick’s Law could increase overall health insurance premiums, but Democrats argue there is no definitive proof this will happen and besides it’s an issue of medical urgency.

The GOP, instead, passed what some contend is a meaningless bill that would regulate behavioral analysts and increase training for autism therapists, which won’t matter much if the professionals can’t make money through basic health insurance coverage. The GOP bill was supported by a small number of Democrats who didn’t leave the chamber. This was after state Rep. Mike Brown, a Tahlequah Democrat, offered an amendment to the GOP bill that would have required insurance companies cover autism treatments.

Essentially, the Republicans make it a sick-versus-healthy issue based on the profits or what a recent editorial in The Oklahoman called “solvency” of health insurance companies. Their argument is that business profits/solvency for insurance companies trump personal health care needs. The Democrats make it a basic issue of human suffering and medical fairness. Under their argument, parents should be able to seek and find decent care for their autistic children without literally going bankrupt.

The GOP, or the so-called “family values” party, wanders in the philosophical darkness of denying children health care in Oklahoma, but outside the state a growing national majority long ago figured out the Republicans have a huge idea deficit. The state, as I’ve long contended, is now the junkyard or museum for dead GOP ideologies, which support corporate profits over people’s access to health care and religious intrusion in our lives.

Maybe more legislative Democratic walkouts can help bring about political change in Oklahoma. What can it hurt?

To link to the article and leave online comments, click here.

Walking The Walk

The Oklahoma Observer

April 28, 2009


As promised, House Democrats returned to their seats today, a day after walking out en masse to protest what they viewed as heavy-handedness by the Republican majority.

Dems had hoped to revive “Nick’s Law” that would require insurance companies to cover treatment for autism. But the GOP - with Rep. Don Armes of Faxon ruling from the speaker’s chair - thwarted the parliamentary maneuver.

It’s hardly unprecedented in state history that the House majority arbitrarily and capriciously applies its rules - a variation of situational ethics.

This episode was so egregious, however, that even normally mild-mannered Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, came unhinged, likening the ruling to “totalitarian government.”

What shouldn’t be overlooked is this fact: Legislative opposition to Nick’s Law reflects not the will of the people, but the financial power of the insurance industry.

The GOP majority isn’t about to cross one of its chief underwriters. Instead, it hopes to bamboozle a majority of Oklahoma voters into thinking it is seriously addressing the autism problem [by approving SB 135].

It’s certainly reasonable to help train more doctors to diagnose and treat autism, but what good does it do if rank-and-file Oklahomans can’t afford to be diagnosed or treated?

For the record: three Democrats remained in their seats on the House floor during the walkout - Reps. Ryan McMullen of Burns Flat, Wade Rousselot of Wagoner and Jerry Shoemake of Morris.

McMullen says he declined to participate because “I fervently disagree with walking out when you don’t get your way. Even as the minority, we have an arsenal of procedural moves at our disposal to get our point across. Procedural moves, not the walkout, will be what allow us to have a modicum of fairness on the House floor. In my opinion, walkouts are not effective, and certainly don’t play well to the general public.”

Eventually, eight Democrats joined 57 Republicans in supporting the window-dressing measure.

This fight is far from over. Can you imagine the fun in the next election cycle? The legislative majority is OK that insurers cover Viagra - but not children with autism?

Maybe it’s time to resurrect Bob Dole and his little blue friend.

- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer

click here to link to the online article.

Monday, April 27, 2009

House democrats walk off chamber floor

Published: 4/27/2009

OKLAHOMA CITY — House Democrats tried unsuccessfully Monday to get legislation heard that would require insurance companies to provide coverage of treatment for children with autism.

Disappointed, most of the 40 Democratic House members walked out of the House chamber.

They were upset that they were not permitted to seek a vote to suspend House rules so the proposal — called “Nick’s Law” after an 11-year old boy from Edmond who suffers from autism — could be taken up. They wanted to insert the language into a revised measure, Senate Bill 135, that would create a state license for certified behavioral analysts and increase training for therapists who would evaluate and diagnose autism.

The Democrats’ action had little effect on House business. SB 135 passed, 65-0, with eight Democrats who stayed on the floor voting for it.

House Democratic floor leader Mike Brown of Tahlequah tried to strip SB 135 of its original language and replace it with language that was mostly identical to House Bill 1312, which would have required insurance companies to provide coverage of treatment for children with autism. HB 1312 was killed by a committee in February.

Rep. Don Armes, presiding over Monday’s session, ruled that HB 1312 was dead and could not be taken up. Brown challenged the ruling and asked Armes to suspend the rules so the full House could vote on the matter.

House members voted 55-38 to uphold Armes’ ruling.

“This is totalitarian government,” said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “We’re basically rendered ineffective completely.”

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said House precedent holds that “final action on legislative language is in fact that, final action. The Democrats had recourse to appeal the ruling of the chair, and they lost that vote.”

Democratic leader Danny Morgan of Prague said Democrats will be back in the chamber Tuesday.

SB 135 now goes to the governor.

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Tulsa Police begin autism training

By Staff Reports
Published: 4/27/2009

As part of Autism Awareness Month, the Tulsa Police Department announced Monday a partnership with the Autism Center of Tulsa, formerly known as The Tulsa Autism Foundation, which will to offer training to police officers.

This training is the first of its kind offered in Oklahoma and includes information from national resources and profiles officers and their families who are affected by autism, according to a press release.

This training will also provide officers a working knowledge of autism to assist them on duty. Other cities including Oklahoma City have inquired about conducting a similar training for their officers, according to the release.

For more information on the Autism Center of Tulsa, visit

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Democrats walk off Oklahoma House floor

The Associated Press
Published: April 27, 2009

Democrats in the Oklahoma House walked out of the chamber Monday after their attempt to revive an insurance coverage mandate for autism was blocked by the House's Republican majority.

"This is totalitarian government," Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Sand Springs, said after all but a handful of the House's 40 Democrats walked off the floor following a series of parliamentary maneuvers in which Democrats attempted to revive the autism mandate known as "Nick's Law."

"We're just shocked," said House Democratic leader Danny Morgan of Prague. He said parliamentary rulings by the House's presiding officer at the time, Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, will make the House's Democratic minority ineffective as a political power.

"It really restricts our ability to make legislation," Morgan said. "Hopefully we'll be able to sit down and express our concerns and frustrations."

After Democrats walked out, the House voted 65-0 to send the autism provider bill to Gov. Brad Henry for his signature, with eight Democrats voting with Republicans.

The bill calls for enactment of a licensing process for national board certified behavior analysts and enhancement of existing state programs that would train doctors to diagnose and treat autism.

During a legislative study last year, lawmakers learned that a shortage of trained providers has made it difficult for families to obtain autism services, even when they have financial assistance.

Supporters of "Nick's Law" have argued that therapists will not move to the state to provide services to autistic children without a guaranteed revenue stream to pay them, like that provided by mandated health insurance coverage.

Parliamentary bickering began when Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, made a motion to amend legislation backed by GOP leaders that is designed to increase the provider network of autism specialists in Oklahoma.

The amendment would have revived "Nick's Law," which would require private insurance companies to pay for the diagnosis and treatment of autistic children. The measure, named after an 11-year-old autistic boy from Edmond, Nick Rohde, would cap benefits at $36,000 a year.

The amendment was not considered after Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, said House rules prohibited it because the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee that he chairs made a do-not-pass recommendation on Nick's Law earlier this year, effectively killing it for two full years under House rules.

Armes ruled that Brown's amendment was out of order, prompting Brown to make a motion to suspend the rule that prevented his amendment from being heard, a motion that requires a two-thirds vote of the House to prevail.

"We have suspended those rules for whatever the majority wants to do," Brown said, pointing out that GOP motions to suspend rules regarding germaneness and other parliamentary issues have been routinely passed.

But Armes said his ruling was based on the precedent of past House rulings, not House rules, and that House precedent took priority over the rules.

"We're relying on House precedent. This bill's dead," Armes said. Brown appealed the ruling of the chair, but it was upheld by the GOP majority.

"House precedent holds that final action on legislative language is in fact that, final action," Republican House Speaker Chris Benge of Tulsa said later in a statement. "The Democrats had recourse to appeal the ruling of the chair, and they lost that vote."

Dorman, a former member of the American Institute of Parliamentarians, said it marked the first time he is aware of that any legislative body had ruled that precedent superseded rules voted on by the members.

"Precedence outweighs any of our rules. We can't write a new rule and we can't suspend the rules," Dorman said. If a bad ruling by the presiding officer is placed into the House's book of precedents, then the chamber will forever be governed by that bad ruling, he said.

"That's insane," Dorman said.

"There ought to be some formula that we can look at," Morgan said. "I'm concerned about that."

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Unhealthy view: Demonizing risk firms gets absurd

The Oklahoman Editorial
Published: April 26, 2009

Make no mistake: The goal of the most extreme members of the Legislature is not to reform health care but to remake it, to create a system like those found in Europe that have been "reformed” to the point of forcing people to wait months for procedures that most Americans can get in days.

The demonization of private insurers has reached an absurd level. State Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, a man with a history of moderation, now calls the insurance industry perverted. Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, a man rejected by 61 percent of Oklahoma voters in his bid for the U.S. Senate, demands more regulation of the industry.

Playing to populist instincts has a storied history in Oklahoma. Our constitution is practically a shrine to populism. And most of us have had an unpleasant experience with an insurance company at one time or another.

Yet most of us don’t believe government should control every aspect of the industry simply because we don’t always get our way.

Insurance is a business. Insurers are required to maintain solvency or they’re forced by the state into receivership. Coverage schemes are designed to maintain solvency. Piling on coverage mandates, as Gumm and Rice are keen to do, means higher premiums for all of us. For some of us, this means premiums pass the point of affordability.

Of course this can be "fixed” with government health care, the cost of which won’t be optional and the delivery of which won’t be efficient.

click here to post an online comment of this article.

Nevada Autism advocates rejoice over advance of pivotal legislation

KVBC - News 3

April 22, 2009 08:59 AM

Victoria Campbell reporting

It is formally known as Assembly Bill 162. But for thousands of Nevada families, it's much more than just a piece of state legislation; it's the chance for a new life for themselves and for their children living with Autism.

Landmark legislation was passed through the Nevada Assembly Tuesday, and it was nothing short of a landslide victory: 39 votes for and just two against Assembly Bill 162, which will mandate insurance coverage for the diagnosis and treatment for children living with Autism.

click here to read the entire article.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ron Black: Autism Insurance Coverage DOA

Opinion By Ron Black
Posted on The McCarville Report Online
Click here to read the entire post.

We kind of knew that this would not be the year to see autism coverage mandated, nor really is there a chance next legislative session.

But the rally for health care reform proved that once again, it's all about the money - all about cash flow rather than human life.

It is ironic that the Chambers of Commerce and Pam Peterson are going at it over the issue of human life, but children with autism don't mean much to the pro-lifers I suppose. Heck, I am seriously pro-life but the irony of how folks are up at arms over stem cell research on embryos but couldn't give a rats ass about kids with disabilities such as autism is staggering.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wis. could be first to require cochlear implants

Associated Press Writer
Thu Apr 23

Click here to read entire article.

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin could become the first state requiring private insurance companies to cover cochlear implants for children with severe hearing problems.
The state Legislature passed a bill Thursday requiring private health insurance plans to cover cochlear implants, hearing aids and related treatment for those under the age of 18. Gov. Jim Doyle has promised to sign it into law.
While hearing aids help some children with hearing loss, those with more severe problems may be candidates for cochlear implants. The devices turn sound into electrical impulses that activate the hearing nerve, allowing the deaf to hear.
Supporters say some families with deaf children cannot afford to pay for implants that cost $50,000 or more when excluded by insurance policies. They say getting the devices early is critical to help children develop their language skills.
"This bill is going to allow children to keep their hearing, to become members of society, to go to school and keep a job," said state Rep. David Cullen, D-Milwaukee.
Several states already require insurance companies to cover some hearing aid costs, but advocates said Wisconsin would be the first to extend the mandate to cochlear implants.
The measure, which allows insurers to apply cost-sharing provisions for the procedures, passed the Senate on a voice vote and by an 80-16 margin in the Assembly.
Opponents, which included some Republicans and business groups, said the mandate would drive up costs for small businesses and employees struggling to afford health care costs.
The potential cost of the mandate is unclear and will vary widely by company, said Phil Dougherty, senior executive officer of the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans.
Roughly 1.6 million residents with private insurance would be affected by the bill. Others in self-funded plans will not be bound by the mandate, and most government-funded plans such as Medicaid already cover the devices.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Proponents of autism coverage dealt a setback

Tulsa World
Published: 4/22/2009

Click here to link to article.

OKLAHOMA CITY — An amendment to a bill that would have offered insurance to children with autism has been deleted, dashing the hopes of autism coverage advocates.

The Senate last week approved an amendment to a House bill that would have included coverage under the Oklahoma Health Insurance High Risk Pool, created by the Legislature in 1995 to provide insurance to residents unable to get individual coverage. Participants still pay a premium.

Two bills, one from the House and one from the Senate, sought to create a state license for certified behavior analysts and increase training for therapists to evaluate and diagnose autism spectrum disorders. The bills went to a joint conference committee, which sent one bill to the Senate for approval. There, an amendment to offer insurance was removed.

"What the Senate did is just flat wrong," Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, said after the vote.

Gumm had pushed for health insurance coverage for children with autism in a bill dubbed "Nick's Law."

Sen. Ron Justice, the Senate author of the bill, said the measure begins to address treatment of autism in Oklahoma.

"There are very few perfect bills," said Justice, R-Chickasha. "This is a good first step."

Oklahoma Senate backs off autism coverage

By The Associated Press
Published: April 21, 2009

link to article.

The Oklahoma Senate has backed off an amendment to a House bill to require the Oklahoma High Risk Health Insurance Pool to cover autism spectrum disorders.

Instead, the Senate voted Tuesday to adopt a House a proposal for licensing and training programs for autism therapists.

That bill returns to the House, which is expected to pass it and send it to the governor.

Last week, the Senate adopted an amendment requiring the high risk pool to cover autism treatment up to $36,000.

Sen. John Gumm said his amendment was a good compromise to mandating that private insurance companies cover autism. He says the House plan will do nothing to help families pay for autism treatment.

Autism coverage in Oklahoma stripped from bill

Lawmaker says families will suffer

The Oklahoman
Published: April 22, 2009

Click here to link to article.

An amendment to a bill that would have offered insurance to children with autism has been deleted, dashing the hopes of advocates who had been lobbying for the idea.

Last week, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to a House bill that would include coverage for children under the Oklahoma Health Insurance High Risk Pool.

The pool was created by the Legislature in 1995 to provide insurance to residents unable to get individual coverage. Participants still pay a premium.

Two bills, one from the House and one from the Senate, sought to create a state license for certified behavior analysts and increase training for therapists who would evaluate and diagnose autism-spectrum disorders.

Because there were two versions of the bill, it went to conference committee of House and Senate members. When the bill was sent back to the Senate for approval, an amendment to offer insurance was removed.

"What the Senate did is just flat wrong,” Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, said after the vote.

Gumm, who has pushed for health insurance coverage for children with autism in a bill dubbed "Nick’s Law,” said without insurance, many families won’t be able to afford treatment from the newly certified therapists.

"This bill has done nothing to ease the pressure on the families,” Gumm said. "This bill is for folks who stood up and said ‘absolutely not’ to Nick’s Law to be able to say, ‘I did something.’”

Sen. Ron Justice, the Senate author of the bill, said the measure begins to address treatment of autism in Oklahoma.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 40-6.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Medical reformers vow fight for change in Oklahoma insurance industry

Published: April 14, 2009

A group pushing for health care reform criticized current legislation it says benefits insurers and vowed to keep fighting for change in Oklahoma’s insurance industry.

"This is essentially an unregulated industry in Oklahoma,” said Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, who was among advocates for health care reform at a news conference Monday. "When people make payments for care, they should be able to get it.”

Corn said Senate rules requiring a financial statement for bills dealing with the insurance industry have hindered efforts to seek meaningful reform. Some ranking Republicans have publicly said they oppose mandates on insurers because they could make it harder for companies to keep insuring people. GOP leaders say they want the companies to be able to insure more people, not fewer.

Next week, Oklahomans for Healthcare Reform plans to rally at the state Capitol. Members of the group include Wayne Rohde, who has pushed for insurance coverage for autism. Rhode’s son is autistic. The group also includes Nancy Thomason, founder of the Oklahoma Brain Tumor Foundation, who has pushed for insurance coverage for clinical trials. Thomason’s son died of brain cancer.

"Many of our bills haven’t seen the light of day,” said Jeff Raymond, OK Watchdog executive director and a member Oklahomans for Healthcare Reform. "We want to keep attention on it. We’re not going away, and we want people to share their stories.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Amendment Would Require OHRP Cover Autism

NewsChannel 8 - Amendment Would Require OHRP Cover Autism

Oklahoma City - A state Senate amendment to House Bill 2027 would require a state-run insurance safety net to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism.

The amendment was filed by Durant Senator Jay Paul Gumm, who originally sponsored autism insurance legislation, known as "Nick's Law". It would require the Oklahoma Health Insurance High Risk Pool (OHRP) to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism.

The amendment was attached to a House bill that seeks to train more therapists to evaluate and diagnose the disorder.

The OHRP was created by the state legislature in 1995 to provide access to health insurance coverage to all residents of the state who are unable to obtain individual health insurance.

"The High Risk Pool was designed to be the insurer of last resort," said Gumm. "It seems to be a perfect compromise between those who oppose a mandate on all insurance companies and those of us who support ending insurance discrimination against children with autism."

The bill which included Gumm's amendment, passed the Senate by a unanimous 48-0 vote. It will now go before a conference committee, where a final version of the bill will be developed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Senate Breathes Life into Autism Insurance Coverage Proposal

The State of Oklahoma
Atoka, Bryan, Coal, Johnston & Marshall Counties

April 14, 2009

Contact: Senator Jay Paul Gumm
State Capitol: (405) 521-5586
Durant Office: (580) 924-2221
Mobile: (580) 920-6990

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Senate breathed life into a proposal to provide insurance coverage for children with autism.

An amendment was attached to House Bill 2027, House leadership’s bill to train more therapists. The amendment, enacted without debate, would require the Oklahoma Health Insurance High Risk Pool (OHRP) to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism consistent with what has become known as “Nick’s Law.”

“Just like there is nothing wrong with a pack of shingles at a construction site, there is nothing wrong with the original bill,” said Senator Jay Paul Gumm, a Democrat from Durant who originally sponsored autism insurance legislation. “But you cannot put on the shingles before you pour the foundation.

“The Senate, today, poured the foundation and created comprehensive bill that offers a glimmer of hope to families struggling to care for their children with autism.”
The Oklahoma Health Insurance High Risk Pool was created by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1995 to provide access to health insurance coverage to all residents of the state who are unable to obtain individual health insurance.

The pool charges premiums for its insurance, just as traditional health insurers do, according to information from the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Premiums could seem high because they are not partially paid by an employer. However, the premiums will be no more than 50 percent above standard health insurance rates.

Because the Pool covers high-risk people, it incurs a higher level of claims than premiums can cover. The insurance industry pays into the pool to make up the difference and help it remain viable.

“The High Risk Pool was designed to be the insurer of last resort,” said Gumm. “It seems to be a perfect compromise between those who oppose a mandate on all insurance companies and those of us who support ending insurance discrimination against children with autism.

“We who have fought for ‘Nick’s Law’ have always been willing to compromise, to find common ground. I believe there is a strong desire to help these families – we simply have to find a comprehensive way that really helps these families rather than simply ease political pressure. The amended bill does just that.”

The bill, with Gumm’s amendment, was approved by the Senate on a unanimous 48-0 vote. The measure is destined for a conference committee where a final version will be developed.

Senate passes autism coverage plan

Associated Press - April 14, 2009 6:15 PM ET

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Senate has amended a House bill to require the Oklahoma High Risk Health Insurance Pool to cover autism.

Sen. Jay Paul Gumm offered the amendment to a House measure dealing with insurance coverage. It passed Tuesday on a voice vote.

Gumm says his amendment is a compromise to "Nick's Law," which would have required private insurance companies to cover autism.

Autism is a bioneurological disorder that affects the communications skills of young children.

House Bill 2027 returns to the House and is expected to wind up in a joint conference committee.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Medical Reformers unite to get changes in health care

The Journal Record
Janice Francis-Smith
OK Capitol

April 14, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY – None of the three people who spoke at Monday’s press conference were strangers to the lectern in the press room of the state Capitol. Each has paced the halls of the Capitol building for months, advocating for their particular issue. All have seen their favored legislation shot down by legislators who champion the financial health of one industry: insurance.

On Monday, the three announced they had banded together to form a new grass-roots advocacy group, Oklahomans for Health Care Reform. But a business advocate said such groups often develop when it appears likely legislation to alter Oklahoma’s tort laws will pass.

“We need to take back the insurance industry and make it patient-centric, not just profit-centric,” said Wayne Rohde. As a founder of the Oklahoma Autism Coalition, Rohde has worked for more than a year to force insurance companies to cover autism treatments. The legislation has come to be known as Nick’s Law, named for Rohde’s son.

The issue was derailed last year when the chairman of the House committee to which the legislation had been assigned refused to hear the bill. Former state Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, former owner of an insurance agency, still frequents the Capitol in an advisory role. The issue was shot down again at the beginning of the 2009 session when members of the Republican majority voted against the measure. Under legislative rules, the issue can’t be brought up again for two years. Republican leadership opposes passage of any further insurance mandates, which they say drives up the cost of insurance premiums for everyone.

Nancy Thomason’s son, Cade, was not 2 years old when he died from brain cancer, she said. Thomason’s health insurer refused to pay for costs related to his participation in clinical trials that Thomason thinks could have helped her son. Last year, Thomason worked with state Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, to pass a bill known as Stephanie’s Law, named for a young woman who has since died from brain cancer and who was likewise denied coverage for costs related to participation in clinical trials.

“People are dying, and they (insurance company executives) are only thinking about the bottom line,” said Thomason. A conflict of interest exists when lawmakers who work in the insurance industry serve as chairman and voting members of the committees where legislation involving the insurance industry is heard, she said.

Jeff Raymond of OKWatchdog has been to the Capitol arguing against the provisions of House Bill 1603, the comprehensive measure designed to revise Oklahoma’s laws regarding personal injury, or torts. The changes proposed would protect corporations and physicians from certain liability lawsuits, and would make it more difficult to file and pursue such a lawsuit.

“We’re not going away,” said Raymond. “We want to keep the people’s attention on it.”

Legislation successfully working its way through the process would make it very difficult to pass any additional mandates on insurance companies, requiring a two-year process and a list of actuarial studies. Other legislation would allow insurance companies to offer a bare-bones health care policy, stripped of all mandates and all but the most basic coverage for emergency care.

The three were joined at the press conference by state Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, and state Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau. When insurance companies decide which treatments and procedures to cover and which to deny, the effect is that the company decides which treatments the patient – who rarely can afford to pay for treatment out of pocket – will receive.

“Those decisions should be made by a physician, not by some bean-counter in a basement somewhere,” said Corn. Corn has legislation pending that would make it unlawful for an insurance company to offer bonuses to employees who deny the most claims or who cancel the policies of those who have filed claims, as a California insurance company is accused of doing.

Other states have had success in setting standards for insurance companies, said Corn, and Oklahoma could follow their example. If federal legislation to allow insurance policies to be “portable” from state to state is successful, the question would become moot.

But until then, there is the possibility that insurance companies could choose to take their business to other states if Oklahoma’s laws become too restrictive for them.

“There is no law that says you have to stay here and write coverage,” said Mike Seney, senior vice president of operations for The State Chamber. “And the insurance industry isn’t like every other industry. We, as consumers, need their products, their services. I want my insurance company to do well, so that when I’m in a car wreck, or when a fire comes and wipes out my home, they’ll be able to cover it.”

A groundswell of resentment against insurance companies tends to accompany any efforts toward passing legislation to revise tort laws, which would reduce the amount of money trial lawyers may earn, Seney said.

“Those who oppose tort reform need to find somebody to wear the black hat, and they look to insurance companies,” he said. Regarding the claims of conflict of interest, Seney said lawmakers are elected because of the experiences they bring to the process, whether that experience be regarding the insurance industry or any other profession.

“It would be self-defeating for the state to elect these people and not listen to their experiences,” said Seney. On the other hand, legislators who make their living as trial lawyers have not recused themselves from voting on bills dealing with tort laws or with how much money they can make, he said.

Copyright © 2009 The Journal Record All Rights Reserved
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Autism support group forms in Tahlequah

By Will Chavez
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A new autism support group in Tahlequah is inviting families with autistic children to its first meeting April 9.

The Tahlequah Autism Support Group will meet at 6 p.m. in the Tahlequah Bible Church at 107 S. Mission Ave., and plans to meet every second Thursday of each month. Child care will be available at the meeting.

Cherokee citizens Carla and Chris Howard formed and are facilitating the Tahlequah support group. Their son Nick has autism.

The group began with support from the Hope Foundation in Muskogee, Okla. The foundation began four years ago with the help of the Cherokee Nation to provide hope and support to families with autistic children in eastern Oklahoma.

According to the Autism Society of America, autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.

Chris Howard said one mission of the Tahlequah support group is to help parents of autistic children who may feel isolated.

“I have a feeling that since there isn’t a support group in the Tahlequah area, that there’s a lot of families out there who are battling schools, they’re fighting with doctors, they’re dealing with diets and medications…insurance companies. They’re dealing with all that by themselves,” he said.

He said he and Carla experienced the isolation and frustration of getting help for their son before they sought help through the Hope Foundation.

“We felt alone. So, one of the things this support group is for is to let them (families) know they are not alone, that there is a community here, and we’re here to help each other,” he said.

The group also plans to provide information and education to families with autistic children. Information on what autism is, what a parent can do for their child in school and where to find therapy services will be shared, he said.

The Howards have not conducted a formal survey of how many families in Tahlequah may have children with autism, but Chris said just through acquaintances and friends they have found five families.

“It would not surprise me if there were 30 families in the Cherokee County area that have kids with autism,” he said. “In northeastern Oklahoma, the rate of autism is one in 90 children.”

He said one in 150 is usually the figure given for children with autism in the state, but certain areas have a higher rate.

“If that’s the case there’s a whole lot of people we don’t know about yet,” he said.

Copyright © 2009 Cherokee Phoenix All Rights Reserved

Challenges of adult autism to escalate

To link to the story in the Tulsa World, click here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Question: What coming social expenditure will cost more than a third of this year's budget for the Department of Health and Human Services and be larger than the budget of the Energy Department?

Answer: The bill for the tide of autistic children entering adulthood over the next 15 years, an estimated $27 billion annually in current, non-inflation-adjusted dollars by the end of that period. The number of autistic children expected to need extensive adult services by 2023 — more than 380,000 people — is roughly equal to the population of Minneapolis. If a town were created to house this group of people and their caregivers — for you can't separate the two — it would exceed the population of all but six U.S. cities. If they formed a state, it would have four electoral votes.

But most of these cognitively impaired citizens don't vote. Most of them can't live alone or work in public places. Many can't even take public transportation by themselves.

Yet as World Autism Awareness Day passed this month, with the wrecking ball swinging at all levels of social services in this devastated economy, the challenges of adult autism continue to be overlooked. Many news reports focus on whether vaccines cause autism, the need for a cure or the education of autistic children. Autistic adults are relegated to the sidelines. Even the Obama administration, which has pledged better care for disabled Americans, has not been specific enough about its plans for those who will probably never be able to live independently or be part of the traditional workforce. "Improving life-long services for people with ASD," as autism spectrum disorder is known, is a broad, detail-free promise in the White House agenda published online.

I understand that no one wants to look at a child and imagine the clunky, in-your-face adult he or she will become. When I look at my pudgy 22-year-old son, Randy, still sweet-faced but so obviously disabled, I cannot locate the blond cherub he used to be, gripping his stuffed bear. While writing this, I listened to Randy getting into the refrigerator (he's home again from his supervised job — two mornings a week — because of another problem with the overwhelmed human services provider funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), and wonder who will love or protect him when he ends up in a group home run by an overworked staff.

Randy's father and I are keeping him at home as long as possible, even as I'm battling an incurable cancer. The inadequate state services and perilously thin funding have hampered our ability to work while caring for our son. I feel as though we're playing Russian roulette with Randy's future, yet I cling to my son, unwilling to entrust him to a system that grows more fragile than I do.

Randy is just one of hundreds of thousands of autistic adults to whom society pays frighteningly little attention. The price of their care will affect all Americans, not only those who have autistic children. Along with housing, day programs, transportation to those programs or jobs, and higher-than-average medical costs, adults with autism require steady supervision and support.

Consider: A well-behaved, relatively high-functioning person such as my son could manage in an environment that has a ratio of three clients per staff member. But many autistic people require a one-to-one ratio. This is a serious hurdle, not least because of the high turnover rate among those who provide direct care, which stems in part from their low wages. Not everyone is temperamentally suited to this work. People with autism present myriad challenges: They can sometimes be violent, sometimes are self-abusive, suffer psychological meltdowns, or behave in many socially unacceptable ways, to say the least. Women, traditionally cast in the caregiver role, are at risk of greater physical harm when caring for autistic adults than for children. At expected rates, we will need to find an additional million caregivers, people who must have the right personal qualities to work with autistic individuals but who are willing and able to work for low wages. This is no small challenge. We not only must train people but also show that we value this work by paying them better.

In 15 years, the cost of care just for the autistic children entering adulthood over that time will be about equal to the current state budget of Tennessee. Meanwhile, services are dangerously strained, and the influx of autistic adults is under way. This country urgently needs to focus on adult autism, new models of care and new sources of funding. Before the looming tidal wave delivers another crushing blow to our economy, we should have a national discussion. It should begin today.

Linda H. Davis is president of the nonprofit SAGE Crossing Foundation, formed to create a farmstead for autistic adults. Her husband, Chuck Yanikoski, who is treasurer of SAGE, contributed to this piece for the Washington Post.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ten things a community can do to help families with autism

Karen Beauvais
Published April 2, 2009 Claremore Daily Progress
Posted on-line April 03, 2009 11:03 am

— My husband and I oversaw a large helps ministry at a local Atlanta mega-church. In the height of our time there, with 300 some weekend outreaches a year, our middle son was diagnosed with Autism.
It came suddenly, after vaccines were doubled. After much prayer, dietary changes and chelation therapy our once silent child is healthy and talks now. After five years of facing the greatest challenge of our life, we want help churches and communities support and minister to families facing autism. Maybe you know someone with an autistic child but just don’t know what to say or do.
Here is a guide:
1.) Most families facing Autism feel ostracized and isolated.
Their life has usually experienced abrupt change. One of the best things you can do is love them unconditionally and treat them normally.
They face down lots of negatives every where they go - whether battling for school provisions or listening to doctors and therapists constant evals detailing how their child(dren) don’t measure up. Kind comments about even small improvements in a child can bless a Mom dealing with autism.
Encouraging people can keep a mother facing Autism from plunging into an abyss of depression. Reminding them that God has a hope and a plan.
2.) Understand one thing, very clearly, even if a child is higher functioning...
The number one fear, worry or concern with parents of children on the Spectrum is what will happen to their child when they are gone. While you sleep peacefully this thought plagues them day and night.
Making a space for children on the spectrum in your Sunday School or assigning them a buddy, so parents can attend a worship service together. It is worth more than gold.
It allows them to tap back into God’s power and plan for their lives and restores them from hopelessness.
3.) Understand that Autism is a neurological disorder not an infectious disease, demonic oppression/possession and not necessarily something out of order in the home.
One out of every 150 children are diagnosed with autism and growing. Pastors have children with Autism, famous people have children with autism and so do regular folks right in your community. It’s a global crisis.
Children with neurological disorders will do strange things, stim, groan, eat stuff that isn’t food, head bang. Know that when kids are treated for metabolic disorders, heavy metal poisoning, and given proper therapy these symptoms often disappear.
But unlike things like potty training or teething with typical kids, the symptoms often take a long time to change and heal. Parents some times give up on activities because no one understands.
The top thing you can say to a parent with a child facing Autism is “How can I help you?” One day at church a gentleman came up to me and said “Hey Karen...I just want you to know we are praying with you for Josh’s full recovery.” He will never know the balm those words were to my soul. So seek to understand and forgo judgment.
Here is a little secret about parents who have a special needs child, we often judge ourselves worse than any well meaning person can.
Knowing hope and God’s love set us straight and keeps us thriving without condemnation.
4.) Families in crisis have to manage anger.
Frustration boils over because unlike a nurse, pharmacist or therapist we don’t get to clock out everyday. Sometimes sleep is at a premium or not at all.
For us, Josh was a runner. Meaning we had to live in a miniature Fort Knox, only without the gold! Several times he almost drown, once we found him under a neighbors truck, down a busy road in a pull-up, and even going to the grocery store was a fiasco. 911 and poison control knew us on a first name basis. Our neighbors knew that look of distress and how to quickly form a search party. It was crazy, until Josh healed up past this behavior. I had one friend who from time to time would just spontaneously show up with a cake or even dinner. So ignore angst, it comes with the territory when you are in a situation you can’t control. Lend a loving listening ear and offer to pray.
5.) Siblings.
Hum where do I start with this one? Imagine growing up in a family where your parent’s world revolves around a child in crisis. Imagine spending time in boring waiting rooms and hearing “We can’t get that! We’re going to the doctor this month.” Imagine going to church or school with all the regular kids and having a strange brother you love and understand but other people don’t. Siblings are the unsung heros of the autism epidemic.
Compassion is in their DNA. They keep Mom and Dad sane and are often the best most natural therapists for our autistic children. So when you meet a brother or sister of somebody on the spectrum recognize them for something outside of their family’s trial with autism. If you’re in a place to give them some respite, a night out, a movie, do it- because the world rarely revolves around these kids.
Last year after doing no sports ever, we took the plunge and signed my typical 11 year old up for baseball. His team went undefeated into the Championships and then won the Championships. Later they were recognized by the mayor. David and I think this was God’s blessing on a big brother who often lived in the shadow of his brother’s autism.
So “love on” as we say in the South, a sibling of an ASD kid today.
6.) Pray for families with Autism to have their physical needs met.
Sponsor them in financial classes, pass down clothes, offer to fix a car and know that raising a child on the Autism Spectrum topples 3-4million dollars over the life time of the child.
In the first year of treating Josh biomedically we burned through $30,000 in out of state doctors, lab testing, and dietary interventions. Most families will not tell you that the financial struggle is constant. Many of us have been in the position of choosing compounded supplements over paying the phone bill.
The autism diagnosis is the “kiss of death” for insurance coverage.
Once you have it, you begin a long hard fight to get anything beyond psych meds covered. Often times there is a misconception that “the State” pays for all our needs, which couldn’t be further from the truth. State help comes after miles of paperwork and only covers limited things like therapy. Parents are often denied services or subjected to steep government cuts in services especially during hard times.
When we were in the height of helping Josh recover, a relative started sending us a little money each month. They were not our richest relative by any means, they just said they prayed and wanted to help.
That gift was a drop in the bucket for our monthly medical needs but gave me hope enough to pray that God would take care of the rest. And He did and still does today.
7.) Lend some space at your church for “date night” respite or for monthly support group like “TACA Talk about curing Autism now.”
Parents of special needs kids have an 85% or higher rate of divorce.
They need very targeted support and outreach. Getting together with parents fighting the same battles strengthens and equips parents to go on.
Who knows? You may help a child in your community to recover because you opened your doors.
8.) Train child care workers to lovingly except children with Special Needs. Once I was working in a nursery for 3-year-olds and while I left the room, a parent was asked to remove their daughter with Spina bifida.
She had braces and was not in anyway a problem but the children’s minister was intimidated and asked for the parents to take the child.
I offered to one on one watch her as I entered the room explaining I too had a special needs child, but the damage was done. I followed the very rejected father (who was crying bitter tears) down the hallway begging him to bring his daughter back. But it was no use.
Talking to the children’s ministry leader later, I was told that Special Needs Children are an insurance liability. While I’m sure that may be the case for some medically fragile children, most special needs kids can easily be accommodated with just a little instruction from parents. I hope I never live to see a visitor carrying out a child from church in braces again. Rejected from the very place they need the most. Strive to understand, always.
9.) Disregard crazy news stories on Autism and don’t mention them to parents.
Autism is big money for TV because of all the controversy with vaccines. We routinely have to suffer through crazy studies presuming what caused our child’s Autism. Refrigerator mothers, Old Dads, Geeks, TV, Rain. The latest is “Fathers who chose less curvy mothers.” After a while you become fatigued from all the news and just want to live a normal life.
So save yourself an eye roll and don’t mention Michael Savage’s latest rant on autism to a family dealing with it.
10.) If all of the above fails ask God what the family(ies) in your church facing Autism need.
Remember He loves and heals all. The rain falls on both the just and the unjust. Let the rule of LOVE supersede all that you do. You might just be the very person(s) that family needs right now.
Last April for the first time Josh was in an Easter production. The new church we had started to attend insisted he be included. We had to work double time to rehearse but Josh got it down.
I spent the service in tears. I would have understood if he wasn’t included but someone thought enough to ask. Be that kind of someone to a family with Autism.
That’s what Jesus would do.
Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

April is Autism Awareness Month

Written by a Mom for her daughter

1. Please don't assume that you know what it is like to parent my child. The
only person who can possibly relate to my hopes and my dreams, my burdens,
my fears, and the difficulties I face, is GOD!

2. Please respect me for knowing my child better than anyone else. Please
accept the ideas I share as tools to help improve a situation for my child, not
words of criticism towards you.

3. My child does not speak well. We aren't able to enjoy the reciprocal
conversation about her day at school that you are able to enjoy with your own
children. Please communicate with me and allow me to communicate with you, so
that I may know about her day. I would like to be able to help her with her
difficulties and praise her for her efforts.

4. Please don't tell me I can't FIX my child. I was complimented by God that
he selected me for this journey - parenting a special needs child. God
grants me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...the most difficult
of all being that my child has special needs. I can't FIX that and make it go
away and I don't need to be reminded of that fact. But God also grants me the
serenity to change the things I can. My child is full of motivation, a love
for learning, a willingness to improve herself, and pride in her
accomplishments. Please respect me for encouraging her to be all that she can be. Please
respect her for her very hard word and accomplishments. No, I can't FIX her
disability. But I can provide her with all that she needs to make it easier to
live with. And by the way, God grants me the wisdom to know the difference.

5. Allow me to believe in miracles. After all, I do live with one. Don't
slam the doors on my hopes and my dreams.

6. Please respect me for the time, the effort, and the challenge of
educating myself in the different areas of the special needs of my child. I have a
need to learn all that I can about my child and how she sees the world. I am
willing to share this information with you, hoping it will make your job a bit
easier. My knowledge also enables me to help others, which gives me great

7. Please know that I am tired. There are days when I need some positive
reinforcement or a kind word. Because I understand that NEED, I try to provide
the same to you and all who are involved in helping my daughter be all that
she can be. When my "gas tank" is empty, it needs to be refilled!

8. Please know that I respect and appreciate all that you do. I know that your
job is almost as demanding as mine. When God selected me for this journey,
he sent angels along to help me. YOU ARE ONE OF THEM!

Thank You!Written by: Diane O'Rourke-Bankus © 2003