Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bad Medicine : Every one will pay for inaction on autism legislation


...So let's get this straight: The Republican-majority Oklahoma Legislature is seriously discussing a bill that could make it more difficult for regular folk to circulate initiative petitions and get them on the ballot?

The same Oklahoma Legislature that itself placed 10 of 11 referenda on last year's ballot -- most wedge issues designed to ignite turnout among constituencies that tend to favor the GOP majority?

The same Oklahoma Legislature whose Republican members for years huffed and puffed about Democrats "not trusting the voters" to decide important issues?

The same GOP majority Oklahoma Legislature that refused this year to let the voters decide whether insurance companies should be required to cover treatment for children with autism?


All you need to know about what who wields the real power at N.E. 23rd Street and North Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City is this: Big insurance's deep pockets can deftly turn referenda-happy Republicans into a referenda-killing machine.

Oklahoma families crushed by the costs of uninsured treatment for their autistic children have worked vainly for several years to get relief from their lawmakers. But there hasn't been an insurance mandate since Republicans took control of the state House six years ago -- the last one ordered was for mammograms.

And before you start grinding your teeth about "mandates" or "government regulation" or "interfering with free enterprise," remember this: 1 in 100 children is now diagnosed with the malady.

This is a ticking time bomb -- for Oklahoma taxpayers. You see, children treated for autism often can become productive, taxpaying adults. If they are not treated, who do you think will most often end up paying for their adult long-term care and housing? Exactly -- the taxpayers. And the costs are likely to be enormous.

Big insurance feigns poverty, but the truth is, companies are earning record profits. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that treating children with autism isn't burdensome for these companies that clearly care about one thing and one thing only: their bottom lines.

Already, 21 states have passed legislation that mandates some form of autism treatment for children. Oklahoma lawmakers, meanwhile, play a cost-shifting game -- protecting big insurance (among their biggest campaign donors) and leaving a mountain of future expenses to taxpayers.

Why should current legislators care? They'll be term-limited from office before the you-know-what-hits-the-fan. Future lawmakers can clean up the mess.

What's even more appalling is that Oklahomans overwhelmingly believe a mandate is warranted -- 79.5 percent in a SoonerPoll last spring. In addition, 66.6 percent of the likely voters surveyed statewide said they would favor a state ballot initiative requiring health insurance to cover the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism.

So, Democratic Rep. Mike Brown of Tahlequah introduced legislation this year that would give voters the chance to decide the issue. It looked like the perfect plan: How could the Legislature's Republican majority -- which prattles endlessly about "trusting the voters" -- not trust the voters on this issue?

Initially, Brown's HB 1624 was assigned to the House Insurance Committee. But in late February, it was shifted to the House Rules Committee -- the graveyard for legislation the speaker and powers-that-be want to kill.

Brown says the speaker told him he wanted to let last year's legislatively enacted reforms take full root before considering a statewide vote on the issue. What reforms? Lawmakers approved a measure aimed at increasing the number of health care professionals in Oklahoma with expertise in treating the malady.

It was pure window dressing -- more treatment will be available for those who can't afford it. And what is likely to become of those new autism-care professionals, trained at state taxpayer expense? Most likely will end up practicing in other states that demand insurance companies to cover treatment for autism -- states like all our neighbors: Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Brown hasn't given up. He proposed an amendment to Speaker Kris Steele's HB 2130 that addresses the duties of the Health Care for the Uninsured Board that would mandate autism coverage. It's time, Brown says, for "an honest and open debate about the lifelong consequences of failing to provide these services in crucial developmental years."

"In the end, it's not just the children but also the families who will pay for our inaction on this issue. The emotional turmoil parents face when unable to provide proper medical care for their child is unimaginable -- especially as more studies are released that prove the powerful impact early intervention can have on a child."

You can bet Republican legislative leaders will work to kill this proposal, too. But it only serves to reconfirm their venality -- big insurance mercenaries who are callous to the plight of suffering Oklahoma families and indifferent to the catastrophic costs that will be borne by Oklahoma taxpayers.

Even worse, the state Senate recently approved Senate Joint Resolution 37 that would place a referendum on the ballot aimed at making the initiative petition process even more difficult.

Currently, those seeking to place a measure on the ballot can collect signatures anywhere in the state. Most, as you might guess, focus their efforts in the state's two largest metropolitan areas -- Tulsa and Oklahoma City -- with about two-thirds of the state's population.

Sen. Mike Schulz's plan -- which would be put to a statewide vote if also approved by the House -- would amend the Constitution to require a percentage of the signatures come from each of the state's five congressional districts.

"It's simply to bring some equality to the process," the Altus Republican says.

You can't simply sit in a metro area and gather all the signatures needed to get something on the ballot."

I've long argued that lawmaking-by-initiative is a dicey business. We have representative government for a reason -- we elect and pay (handsomely) proxies to go to the Capitol, study the issues and make their best judgments while we carry out our everyday lives. If we don't like the way our representatives vote, we elect someone else.

As far as I'm concerned, 11 state questions on the ballot last year was way too many. But I find it more than a little ironic that Republicans who were responsible for placing 10 of them on the ballot in 2010 now are working to make it more difficult for non-elected officials to petition their government.

Either you trust the voters or you don't.

--(Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer;

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nick's Law falls short again in the OK Legislature


The City Sentinel
By Wayne Rohde
March 10th, 2011

As the Oklahoma Legislature closes out the first month of this new session, I am concerned that Oklahoma is missing out on a great opportunity to say to the world, to say to this nation, that we rise above politics, we rise above the rhetoric that divides us on some many levels, and tend to the needs of those in our society are the most vulnerable, those with special needs.

For the past several years, the Legislature has seen a surge in the advocacy of parents, medical practitioners, and concerned citizens to pass Nick’s Law, legislation to require insurance companies to provide medical coverage for treatments and therapies that are medically necessary to combat the symptoms of autism.

And for the past several years, the Legislature, instead of discussing and debating the complex issue of insurance coverage for children with autism, have sided with the special interests that control the state capitol, and have continued to turn their backs on the most vulnerable members of our society.

During this session, Speaker Kris Steele, at the last moment, moved HB 1624 out of the House Insurance Committee where it was scheduled to have a public hearing, to the House Rules Committee, where it will die. This action is very typical of the House since we first introduced Nick’s Law in 2008. They find ways to kill the bill instead of allowing the members vote on the bill on the floor of the State House.

But we will not be defeated. We will not turn our backs on our children and we will prevail. The costs are too high if we don’t. Many of our children can be removed from the iron claws of autism and become self sufficient taxpayers of the future. But to continue turning our backs and kicking this problem down the road, the taxpayers will be faced with a large burden of providing state services for these children who will become adults and require around the clock care. It is truly a fiscally conservative approach to address this problem now instead of spending 20 to 30 times the cost in the future.

For those in opposition that often quote that passage of Nick’s Law will only drive up insurance rates in Oklahoma, I have this question. If so, then prove it. Show us the credible economic data that shows that Nick’s Law will drive up insurance rates significantly. I can help you with your research. There is no credible data. Simply put, in the other 23 states that passed similar legislation, there has been no significant increase to premiums.

For those in opposition that Nick’s Law is nothing more than government run health care, please look carefully at the states that implemented this legislation. I will argue that it creates a more efficient free market system after in acting this mandate. Insurance companies will contract with medical providers, creating a demand for qualified therapists and doctors to open up clinics and create hundreds of medical jobs, and provide a greater access to health care for all.

For those in opposition that Nick’s Law will only serve a small number of children, these providers will be able to serve not just those with private health insurance but those with TriCare, SoonerCare, and the self insured.

This is all evident in the states that have passed similar legislation. I will take this evidence as something that can be replicated in Oklahoma. And take a look at our neighboring states, we are surrounded by states that clearly understand this issue and have moved forward to address this epidemic. But Oklahoma seems to continue to lag behind the nation in health care rankings.

Last year, SoonerPoll conducted a statewide poll on if the voters of Oklahoma would support Nick’s Law. In one of the largest favorable outcomes, 79.5% of the voters support Nick’s Law with a surprising 70% of Republicans. This should not be a partisan issue and with this poll, it is clearly has bi-partisan support. The results show that this issue transcends across all demographics of political party, economic divisions of income levels, and religious beliefs.

But our state legislature and now Speaker Steele has decided once again to listen to the special interest groups and lobbyists instead of the voters of Oklahoma. The voters understand the issue and now it is time for the legislature to represent the people of Oklahoma, not the selfish interests. So I call on Speaker Steele to allow Nick’s Law to come to a vote of the people. HB 1624 asks for it and the people of Oklahoma demand it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ark Gov signs autism insurance coverage bill into law

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Gov. Mike Beebe will sign into law a bill requiring insurance companies to cover autism diagnosis and treatment.

There is new support for autistic children in Arkansas. Tuesday, Governor Mike Beebe signed an autism bill into law. It requires most health insurance companies to cover autism diagnoses and treatment for children under 18.

It's a signature with the power to lift a financial weight. Ten-year-old Briar Miller with his mom Dayna were in the center of it all. "I'm glad the law passed we've been trying to pass it for two years," says Briar Miller.

Most major health insurance companies can no longer deny Arkansas families coverage for treatment for children with autism. "I just truly believe that children in Arkansas deserve the same right as children across the United States especially when it was a research proven approach," says Dayna Miller.

Miller estimates she borrowed $100,000 to pay for applied behavior analysis. It's treatment using positive reinforcement recommended by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Miller says for Briar it works. " He went from a nonverbal child, he's in the fifth grade getting straight A's although he brought home a B last week that's we're going to get up," says Miller.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with autism and that ABA treatment ranges anywhere from 30 to 60 thousand dollars a year.
Veronica Tess Myers says in 1996, when doctors diagnosed her son Alexander with severe to moderate autism.

You definitely feel alone, there's a lot of tears being cried there's a lot of frustration there's a lot of sitting alone trying to figure out what the next step is going to be to help you child to succeed," says Myers.

They told her told her it was either ABA or a group home for life. "And that's the part that breaks my heart that so many families want to help their child and couldn't get therapy," says Miller.

Danya Miller says she was working at a factory when Briar was born. She went back to school and became a speech pathologist to help him and other children with autism. ­estimates that one in 93 boys and one in 345 girls in the state are autistic.