Ed Doney Reporting , KFOR
March 9, 2010
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A bill that would require insurance companies to cover treatment for children with autism has cleared the House of Representatives in Missouri. However, the fight continues over similar legislation in Oklahoma, called "Nick's Law." The father of 12-year-old Nick Rohde, for whom the proposed law was named, wants Oklahoma to join surrounding states on the issue.
Wayne Rohde spends thousands of dollars every month for Nick's autism behavioral therapy, which is not covered by insurance and yet Nick is still unable to verbally communicate with his dad.
Wayne has unsuccessfully tried to get lawmakers to pass Nick's Law and is amazed at how Oklahoma is surrounded by states that do cover the disease like Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.
As Missouri inches closer to providing autism coverage, Wayne says that 65 percent of Oklahomans are on his side.
"So we know we're on the right track. This is the right thing to do," he says. "Unfortunately, our State Capitol is not listening to the people of Oklahoma."
Representative Mike Brown (D, District 4) has authored House Joint Resolution 1068, which would "refer (the issue) to the people for their approval" on the November ballot.
He says it's currently being held up in a rules committee.
Brown was disappointed Nick's Law was killed last year in the Economic Development and Financial Services Committee, which means it won't be heard again until 2011.
"You can't just turn your head, stick your head in the sand and say it's going to go away," Brown says.
He points to 15 other states that have already passed autism coverage legislation that, he says, has not significantly raised insurance premiums.
"Will there be slight (cost) increases? My gosh, there's astronomical increases every year in health care, with no reasons behind it," Brown says.
Representative Dan Sullivan (R, District 71) is Chairman of the committee that killed Nick's Law, last year.
"We see a movement in the market without government intervention that's taking care of these situations and moving in the right direction," he says.
Sullivan points out that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma is now offering autism coverage on their own; he wants other insurance companies to follow their lead, without an expensive government mandate.
If they don't follow suit?
"It would certainly cause us to go back to these other carriers and say, 'why aren't you doing this? Give us a reason why you're not doing this?'" Sullivan says. "We would rather have people do it in their own course of business rather than forcing and mandating them to do that."
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma released a statement Tuesday saying "(We) will provide a clinically reasonable benefit that doesn't unduly create a price impact on small employer groups and affect their ability to provide health care coverage to their employees. This action allows us to provide a benefit for proven therapeutic services while research continues to identify effective treatments or medical solutions for children with autism."
Wayne Rohde is disappointed Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma's autism policy does not cover behavioral therapy, which he says is the most important and most expensive treatment for children.
"We're creating a bigger problem down the road in the next few years," he says, "where the taxpayers will be on the hook to provide long-term care for these kids as they become adults."
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