Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Leap Tall Buildings?

Printed from the Urban Tulsa Weekly website:

Look, up at the capitol--is it Superman or Clark Kent?

By Arnold Hamilton

If House Speaker-designate Kris Steele isn't the most anxious guy at the state Capitol these days, he should be.

The Shawnee Republican is the GOP majority's choice to grab hold of the gavel for the 2011 session, succeeding current Speaker Chris Benge, who is being forced from office by term limits.

The problem is, Steele's yearlong ascension to power unfolds just as the House Republican caucus is showing signs of morphing into the political equivalent of a hornet's nest.

The very public dispute between Benge and Rep. David Dank of Oklahoma City over Dank's proposed property tax cap began escalating less than a fortnight before the session opens Feb. 1, threatening to fracture the GOP coalition.

In fact, Dank demanded that Benge "step up" and support the tax plan or "step down and let someone else lead the House." Benge quickly fired back, accusing Dank of "political grandstanding at its worst."

In the middle sits Steele, a genial, bespectacled 36-year-old Methodist minister whose ascension to power could be short-circuited if he is unable to help preserve caucus harmony and if notions of a palace coup take root.

Steele's position is especially tricky because he currently serves as speaker pro tempore--the House's No. 2 position. This isn't a mostly ceremonial job like lieutenant governor or vice president. The pro tem actually sits in the speaker's chair every day, wielding power over who speaks and who doesn't--and for how long. He also is routinely called upon to interpret murky, arcane House rules, a power all but certain to produce bruised egos and short tempers.

Not surprisingly, the speaker pro tem is rarely the most popular guy in the House Chamber--and on occasion might well be the most despised.

Steele glided fairly through his four terms as a state representative, winning praise from both his GOP colleagues and from Democrats as a workhorse, not a show horse. His efforts on behalf of children, low-income Oklahomans and seniors won him numerous awards and accolades.

As he rose into leadership, however, Steele made compromises that turned off staunch allies and created more than a few enemies.

One of his biggest mistakes, in my view, was throwing families with autistic children under the bus this past session. Steele had been working closely with those families for several years to require insurance companies in Oklahoma to cover autism--a proposal known as Nick's Law.

As Steele well knows, autism is a ticking time bomb for state taxpayers--early, sustained treatment is less costly and can help sufferers lead more normal, more productive lives; those who go without help often need expensive, lifelong care, typically in institutional settings.

Unfortunately, big insurance is a powerful force these days at the Capitol, perhaps even the most influential. With designs on the speakership, Steele jettisoned the common-sense proposal--which was killed in committee--and instead pursued legislation designed to increase the number of doctors trained to diagnose and treat autism.

Question: What good does it do if rank-and-file Oklahomans can't afford to be diagnosed or treated?

What's worse, Steele argued it was the best lawmakers could do. Baloney. It was the Insurance Industry Profits Protection Act of 2009, pure and simple. It's a shell game, shifting costs from insurance companies (which would cover treatment for children) to taxpayers (who would pay for much costlier adult care).

Credible studies show mandating autism coverage has no appreciable affect on premiums. In other words, it doesn't hurt insurance company profits. But big insurance doesn't want the Legislature to start approving any more mandates--none have been required since Republicans gained a House majority in 2004. The last mandate? Mammograms. Can you imagine where we'd be if women weren't encouraged--and insurance didn't cover--the annual exams?

Similarly, the dust-up over property taxes is the result of another case of legislative cost-shifting.

Dank, an affable 71-year-old grandfather and former newspaper publisher, wants to cap annual property tax increases at three percent and freeze property tax rates for seniors over 65, many of whom are on fixed incomes. Seems reasonable.

The problem is, public schools and other essential government services rely heavily on property taxes. Dank's proposal would put a serious financial crimp in those long-term services, unless lawmakers pony up additional dollars.

That, however, would require legislators to either make significant cuts in other government services or raise taxes to offset the loss, neither of which is palatable politically. They would prefer to keep the status quo--meaning that property taxes double every 13 years in Oklahoma--than be put in the position of having to answer to the voters about spending priorities or raising taxes.

It's an issue that's not going away. Dank has made that clear. And he has more than a few allies in the Legislature.

Many of the newer House members have more in common with the Tea Party activists than with the corporatists who run the House as a wholly owned subsidiary of the State Chamber of Commerce.

They might be registered Republicans, and they may share much of what has become the GOP worldview--especially when it comes to religion and knocking down the wall separating church and state--but the reality is that they identify less with their party and more with ideology.

They don't play by the old rules of party discipline that allow disagreements behind closed doors but demand lock-step unity in public.

This brings us back to Steele's tricky position. House Republicans may have decided by acclamation last fall that he would be speaker-in-waiting, but there's nothing to prevent unhappy--or ambitious--members from staging a coup before he can grab hold of the gavel.

After all, he must first survive what could well be a raucous, even angry session for lawmakers dealing with a revenue crisis that will slash state spending from $7.1 billion as recently as 2008 to only $5.3 billion available next year. Further, the makeup of the House will change in the November elections--some current members who supported Steele for speaker won't be around any longer, for example, because of term limits. The newcomers might prefer a different candidate.

If Steele, Benge and other House Republican leaders can't figure out a way to manage the personalities and issues, and if the House ends up in open revolt this session, it could end up costing Steele dearly.

-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer;

URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.com

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Autism Insurance Hearing: Families Hoping for Help, Insurers Question Mandate

By KSPR News

Story Created: Jan 19, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A big monetary difference remains
between insurers and health care advocates over Missouri
legislation addressing treatment for autistic children.
House and Senate committees each heard testimony Tuesday on
bills seeking to make Missouri the 16th state to enact an autism
insurance mandate.

Advocates back a proposal that would require insurers to
annually cover up to $72,000 of a therapy known as "applied
behavioral analysis" for people up to age 21.
But insurance company lobbyists say that is to costly and too
long. An executive for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City
suggested an alternative of providing up to $32,000 of coverage
annually for children through age 7, with lesser coverage for older

A spokeswoman for one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, says lawmakers will likely vote within the next two weeks. The Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee meets every Tuesday.
Click on our video report to hear from Ozarks families who say ABA is proven to be successful yet too costly without coverage for many parents.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Autism Coverage Fight Continues

Autism Coverage Fight Continues
Submitted by dochoc on Tue, 2010-01-19 18:30 Legislature

To check out OKIE FUNK blog, click here.

A proposed legislative bill would allow Oklahoma voters to decide if insurance companies should cover treatments for autism.

State Rep. Mike Brown (D-Tahlequah) has filed House Joint Resolution 1068, which if approved, would ask voters to add this amendment to the state constitution: “Any health insurance provider offering comprehensive coverage within the State of Oklahoma shall provide coverage for neurobiological disorders such as autism.”

The issue of providing coverage for autism has been a contentious one. Last year, Republicans killed “Nick’s Law,” a bill named for an Edmond youth with autism. His father, Wayne Rohde, and some legislators, had pushed for the legislation. But the bill was killed in a legislative committee.

Requiring insurance companies to cover autism is the right thing to do and some states already require such coverage.

The state GOP leadership argues this mandate could sharply increase overall insurance costs, but that’s not true. That argument is simply a distorted projection. Those who support coverage for autism argue that the increase costs would be minimal, which has been the case in other states.

Here’s a decent report on the cost issue.

Will the Republican leadership oppose Brown’s resolution? If the resolution passes, will the vested interests—primarily the health insurance industry—throw a lot of money into an election fight in order to deny coverage for those who suffer from autism?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Oklahoma legislators ready to debate newly filed state measures

Published: January 17, 2010

The state’s worst budget crisis in modern history is not getting in the way of legislators filing more than 2,200 bills for the session that begins next month.

Some issues back
→Requiring insurance companies to provide coverage of treatment for children with autism, an issue that Democratic and Republican leaders have butted heads over the past two sessions, is back. A House committee last year on the second day of the session killed a proposal named "Nick’s Law” for an 11-year- old boy from Edmond who suffers from autism. Under legislative rules, the issue isn’t to be brought up again until the legislative session starting in 2011.
However, Democratic floor leader Mike Brown of Tahlequah has filed a resolution that if approved would put the idea to voters.

To read the entire article, click here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ron Black's Daily Rant

So, will Nick's Law be discussed in the legislature?

After some political wrangling during the last session, a procedural move supposedly made it impossible to hear Nick's Law (mandated insurance coverage for autism) for two years. Talk is that it will be heard again, but perhaps in a different format. I confess that I'm not sure just what happened or how it can happen, but I believe the time has come (again) to at least give it a fair hearing.

Much like the campus concealed carry law.

Herein lies the problem: It is an election year and campaign contributions are the life blood of any campaign and the folks with cash flow aren't really interested in doing the right thing, but rather are proponents of wide open free markets. To some, the government should not only NOT mandate anything relating to business, but pretty much give big business a blank check.

I have been a supporter of Nick's Law myself for a long time but not for the reasons you would think. Sure, my son was diagnosed with a form of autism but today, he is a normal, video-game playing teen. I support it because it is just the right thing to do. Sometimes, conservatism means that we do the right thing and lean into the pitch and take one for the team and for the "least among us."

What is ironic is the opponents of Nick's Law are often the most outspoken advocates of Christian principles and ideologies. They often believe that we are a theocracy, a country that is truly Christian at its core. If that is the case, how can they also NOT support a simple law that requires insurance companies in Oklahoma to provide an option for autism coverage? It just doesn't make sense.

To read the entire blog, please click here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Top 10 Disorders; Guess which one is not covered.

Below is a post from a mother in the Kansas City area. She posted a comment on an article from

Our kids in KS & MO need this help... did you know that of the 12 common neurologic disorders (listed below), AUTISM IS THE ONLY ONE NOT COVERED BY PRIVATE INSURANCE IN KANSAS.

1. autism spectrum disorders
2. cerebral palsy
3. tourette syndrome
4. migraine
5. epilepsy
6. multiple sclerosis
7. traumatic brain injury
8. spinal cord injury
9. ALS
10. stroke
11. Alzheimer disease
12. Parkinson disease

And the more help young Autistic kids get the more functioning they are as adults - so we pay a little now & then don't have to pay a lot later! It only makes sense!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First Autism Treatment Center in Dallas to Provide Insurance Relief for Parents

Behavioral Innovations Works to Ensure Comprehensive Programs Available

DALLAS, Jan. 7 PRNewswire

Behavioral Innovations, the premier Dallas/Fort Worth provider of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services for families of children with autism and other developmental disorders, announces its partnership with key insurance carriers to offer in-network insurance coverage for several ABA therapy programs. Behavioral Innovations is the first behavioral therapy center in the Metroplex to offer in-network insurance for select treatments - mitigating the financial burden on parents.

As of January 1, 2010, Behavioral Innovations started accepting insurance from Aetna covering payments associated with their In-home Treatment Program and SAIL After School Program. The company started accepting in-network insurance coverage from Aetna for children in their Center-Based Day Program in 2009. Starting January 11th, the company will accept United Behavioral Health, which will cover their Center-based Day Program and SAIL After School Program.

"Behavioral Innovations has proactively partnered with specific insurance companies so parents can afford necessary treatments for their autistic children," said Billy Edwards, Director of Business Development at Behavioral Innovations. "This alleviates some out-of-pocket expense and stress, which many parents face, and helps them start early intervention therapy for their child."

Behavioral Innovations is the first ABA therapy center in Texas to join Aetna's network and the first to partner with United Behavioral Health, providing in-network services. The company also provides in-network coverage for military families through Tricare/Humana, is filing claims for BCBS and Cigna and is working diligently with additional insurance companies to gain provider status and network coverage in the near future. This will allow the company to continue treating children that have developmental disorders, while making it more affordable for their parents.

"Autistic children need intensive therapy and treatment is expensive no matter how you slice it," said Edwards. "We want families to have access to comprehensive programs that best fits their needs."

Recently, the Texas legislature made it a priority to make changes in Autism insurance and treatment options. In 2007, the Texas Legislation passed House Bill 1919 to mandate that insurance companies recognize disorders on the autism spectrum. In May 2009, the legislature passed House Bill 451, widening the range of ages for insurance coverage and House Bill 192, excusing a temporary absence from school from a student diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders for an appointment with a health care practitioner.

"The Texas Legislature is helping parents overcome challenges associated with autistic children," said Lisa Martin, whose autistic daughter, Paige, attends Behavioral Innovations. "With these insurance and legislative changes, it's easier to get Paige the therapy she needs to improve her quality of life."

Behavioral Innovations provides diversified and individualized autism therapy programs in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The qualified professionals help children who have been diagnosed with Autism, Asperger's, Cerebral Palsey, Down Syndrome, and many other developmental and behavioral disorders. Each program is tailored to meet each child's unique situation.

Behavioral Innovations offers complimentary screenings for children with behavioral or delay disorders as well as a tour of the facility for parents. Its North Texas Autism Treatment Center, located in Irving, is designed to provide a clinical setting where children receive superior therapy services.

For additional information about Behavioral Innovations and its insurance plans, contact Billy Edwards at Or to set up a complimentary admission screening email or call 469.374.0700.

About Behavioral Innovations

Established in 2000, Behavioral Innovations is the first provider in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to offer on-site ABA treatment and establish an office for consultations. The qualified professionals help children who have been diagnosed with Autism, Asperger's, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and other developmental and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Innovations is one of the largest private employers of Board Certified Behavior Analysts in the state of Texas, with directors that hold Master's Degree in Behavior Analysis. The company is also one of the fastest growing providers of high quality behavioral services in the country. For more information, contact

SOURCE Behavioral Innovations


article link

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Autism coverage redux

Disappointment doesn't even begin to describe the dashed hopes of families who had hoped earlier this year — for the second year in a row — that Oklahoma might join several other states in mandating insurance coverage for treatment of autistic children. House Bill 1312, "Nick's Law," was defeated in a House committee.

Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, said of the panel's members: "They tore the Band-Aid off now quickly because they think they won't have to endure the public scrutiny for the next two years. I think that's a serious miscalculation on their part. These families aren't going away. These kids aren't going away."

To read the entire Tulsa World article, click here.

Gumm is back with two bills for the coming session. One in every 150 children struggles with autism, the fastest-growing disability in the nation. Without early, aggressive treatment, autistic children will continue to rely on parents and when those parents die, they likely will become wards of the state, a costly proposition.