Special Needs Insurance Coverage: Alabama Lawmakers, Lobbyists Clash Over Autism Bills

By Amanda Moore, Parent Herald March 13, 04:00 am

The high cost of caring for children with special needs is a given reality. It's also raising arguments among Alabama lawmakers and lobbyists regarding the cost of special needs insurance coverage.

Republican Rep. Jim Patterson introduced HB284, also called the Autism Insurance Reform Bill, to enable health insurance coverage for children with autism who require behavioral therapy. Proponents of the bill cited that 45 U.S. states support similar health insurance coverage for special needs kids.

Senators, on the other hand, submitted SB57 to propose special needs insurance coverage from birth to nine years for children with autism. This proposal tasked the Department of Mental Health to fund the expenses.

Parents of children with autism and experts presented their testimonies on the importance of behavioral therapy in both legislative hearings. Behavioral analyst Ashlie Walker told lawmakers denying coverage for special needs kids is akin to not helping provide access and options to people with cancer, according to Al.Com.

Many families struggle with paying for behavioral therapies out of pocket especially since sessions are expensive and long-term. In some cases, it's the children's school who absorb the costs but this isn't enough.

Those who oppose the bill, however, argued the coverages put the burden on businesses and agencies. The risks and losses could be costly when funds could be spent for other projects and investments.

Business leaders said they sympathized with families of children with autism. They, however, were hoping for Congress or Senate to propose bills that would be better for all sectors concerned.

At one point during the deliberation in the House, Rep. Patterson clashed with Billy Canary, the president of the Business Council of Alabama. Canary said he consulted with government leaders before in matters concerning autism insurance coverage.

He stated businesses are not "fiscally responsible" for covering behavioral therapy especially if there are no limitations to the health insurance plans. He said it isn't right for the public to shoulder this particular healthcare cost.

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