Decoding Nick's Law
“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.” - George Bernard Shaw
Is autism in Oklahoma an issue of compromise or indifference? Those on the side of House Bill 2027—otherwise known as Nick’s Law—are passionate and clear on one point: without insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders, it won’t matter how many new Board Certified Behavior Analysts are enacted in this state through Senate Bill 135. There will be very few families who can afford to pay them.
“There is some confusion on what Nick’s Law is. Since I wrote it, let me explain,” said Wayne Rohde, father of autistic son Nick Rohde, for whom the bill is named. “It is just legislation to require private insurance companies (not federal employees, the self-insured or Medicaid) to provide insurance coverage for autism. No taxpayer money will pay for services. The parents (of autistic children) pay for the insurance premiums. There could be taxpayer money in the bill to pay for the premium increases, if any, for state employees. The fiscally conservative thing to do is to allow private insurance coverage, so the taxpayers will not be forced to pick up the tab.”
The other side of the autism/insurance debate emphatically believes that House Bill 2027, Nick’s Law, may positively impact a small minority but negatively impact a vast majority of premium-paying individuals.
“Wayne [Rohde] and his family have been very effective advocates of getting autism coverage,” said Senator Clark Jolley (R-Edmond). “The debate over cost to everyone else’s insurance premiums and whether it would result in more people being uninsured is an important one and should not be overlooked.”
These concerns prompted the introduction of Senate Bill 135. The Senate Bill has two main goals: first, to increase the number of trained specialists to treat autism spectrum disorders; second to encourage the open insurance market to adjust coverage based on the demand of services.
Senate Bill 135 also includes provisions that establish a state license for National Board Certified Behavioral Analysts and increased training for the evaluation and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. The bill seeks to enhance Sooner Start, an early intervention and treatment program for children up to age 3 with disabilities and developmental delays. An extended measure of the law looks to replicate Early Foundations, an autism treatment and outreach model through trained providers currently funded through the State Department of Education.
Supporters of Nick’s Law feel that Senate Bill 135 is similar to their own proposed bill but with one major exception: the insurance mandate is removed. “My opinion is that Senate Bill 135 is a waste of taxpayer’s money,” said Rohde. “It provides money to study applied behaviors, yet we have nearly 25-plus years worth of research from the United States Department of Education, the United States Department of Defense, the United States Surgeon General and many more credible sources.” Rohde feels that the spending allocated by the bill is wasteful. “There is no direct help to children and their families,” Rohde said.
Senate Bill 135 was unanimously passed by the Senate on April 21, 2009, after the House Republican majority blocked the insurance coverage mandate for Nick’s Law. House Bill 2027 (Nick’s Law) was killed and banned from the floor for two years after the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee made a do-not-pass recommendation on it.
Not all Oklahoma lawmakers believe, however, that Senate Bill 135 was the appropriate measure to take. “While the legislature has passed measures to increase providers for families with autism, the fundamental fact remains that many families cannot afford the services to treat their loved ones without insurance coverage,” said Senator Kenneth Corn (D-Howe).
When all is said and done, the argument that squelched Nick’s Law while advancing Senate Bill 135 is a disagreement between the costs of funding insurance for families dealing with autism. “This bill will… give families dealing with the disorder more options for treatment,” said Senator Ron Justice (R-Chickasha). “Every step we can take towards early detection and treatment of autism spectrum disorders will greatly benefit those with autism and their families. In the long run, early intervention and proper treatment will reduce the costs associated with autism, and will help Oklahoma’s youth with this disorder be able to reach their full God-given potential.”
The debate over Nick’s Law has brought questions about autism and insurance to the forefront in Oklahoma. The full impact has yet to be seen, but we can all be assured that the debate will continue, both in Oklahoma and on the national level.
Jeana Pollard is a freelance writer, mother of two daughters (Paley and Paven), and wife of Matt Pollard.
Link to MetroFamily