Monday, February 28, 2011

New Hampshire Bill to repeal Autism Coverage

"The lunatics are on the grass" - editor


Rindge lawmaker hopes to reduce what insurance companies have to payBy Dave Eisenstadter
Sentinel Staff
Published: Sunday, February 27, 2011

A local Republican legislator says he is trying to undo insurance regulation passed in the last four years while Democrats were in charge.

House Bill 309, solely sponsored by John B. Hunt of Rindge, would repeal a law requiring insurance companies to pay for early intervention autism spectrum disorder treatment. The law went into effect on Jan. 1; its prime sponsor was Suzanne S. Butcher, a former Democratic representative from Keene.

Meanwhile, families and educators attended an Autism and Asperger’s Expo at Antioch University New England Saturday, where autism support advocates denounced the bill.

Kirsten M. Murphy, director of the N. H. Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders and a parent of two autistic children, said the law mandating early intervention autism therapies has further-reaching implications than simple monetary ones.

Out of all young children identified with autism spectrum disorders and treated using early intervention therapies, 47 percent will enter kindergarten at a level equivalent to their peers, and an additional 40 percent will make significant progress, according to Murphy.

Hunt said legislators could ask insurance companies to give them an idea of the new laws’ effects on premiums.

“Now that we have changed leadership, we have a rare opportunity to re-look at all these mandates and get the insurance companies to tell us how much they really do cost,” said Hunt, formerly chairman of the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, which is hearing the bill.

Hunt said it was appropriate for insurance companies — the businesses regulated by these recently passed laws — to provide information that could enact the repeal of those laws. He did not think the businesses would provide inaccurate or misleading information, he said.

Murphy said the law would save money in the long term.

A 2006 Harvard Study conducted by assistant professor Michael Ganz revealed it can cost about $3.2 million to take care of an autistic person over his or her lifetime. Ninety percent of those costs are incurred during adulthood, according to Murphy.

But if treated with early interventions, those with autism have a good chance at being productive wage-earners and tax payers, Murphy said.

Hunt brought the bill forward because Democrats refused to compromise or listen to Republican concerns, he said.

“When I was chair, we compromised more than they did,” Hunt said.

The legislation targeted by Hunt’s bill affects one third of New Hampshire’s population, Hunt said. The laws only affect state regulated health plans and do not affect Medicare or Medicaid recipients or those insured through large employers.

Those with state-regulated insurance are the most vulnerable to insurance premium increases, according to Hunt.

Hunt’s plan is that by reducing the amount insurers have to cover, insurance premiums will also go down. The bill, however, would not mandate insurance companies to lower their premiums, Hunt said.

Without health insurance companies offering access to such treatments, there is no access to them, Murphy said. Schools are not required to deliver medical treatment.

“I think we always have to be concerned about legislation like this,” Murphy said, referring to House Bill 309. “My hope is the Senate will act as a voice of moderation here.”

Beyond autism diagnosis and treatment, the bill takes aim at half a dozen other coverage requirements, including testing for bone marrow donation, obesity and hearing loss.

Murphy said Saturday’s expo at Antioch provided parents and educators needed information about autism treatment and local resources. Among them are an Autism and Asperger’s support group, which meets the second Wednesday of each month, and an autistic child movement group headed by Antioch assistant professor Christina Devereaux.

Fuller Elementary School staff members Jane C. Trombi and Patti L. Vosteen, who work regularly with students with autism spectrum disorders, agreed that the expo was useful.

“I’ve been to a lot of different presentations and a lot of what I’ve heard today is what I’ve heard before: how every child is different,” Trombi said. “Every child needs a different program.”

For Murphy, getting help through early diagnosis and intervention treatments and through participating in events like the Antioch expo is vital for both parents and educators in dealing with autistic children.

“Parents don’t know what to ask for and schools don’t know what to offer.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1432, or

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