OKLAHOMA CITY – Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana this week signed a bill requiring health insurance companies in that state to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism.
The measure is similar to an Oklahoma bill known as “Nick’s Law.” That measure passed the Oklahoma Senate four times on bipartisan votes. The bill was repeatedly killed by Republican House Speaker Chris Benge and his leadership team by denying the bill a hearing – either in committee or the full House of Representatives.
Autism is a bio-neurological disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships. Studies show that one in 150 children will get some form of autism. Left untreated, many autistic children will become wards of the state, supported by taxpayers.
“Another high-profile Republican governor has chosen to do what is right for autistic children in his state,” said Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, author of Nick’s Law.
“Meanwhile, in our state, Speaker Benge – in the interest of partisanship – is apparently content to condemn an entire generation of children to be forever locked behind the walls of autism. It is nothing less than shameful, and denying even a vote on the bill was a blatant act of political and partisan cowardice.”
The Louisiana plan signed by Jindal passed the Louisiana Legislature with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats. It was authored by Republican state Rep. Franklin Foil of Baton Rouge.
The bill applies group health insurance policies issued in Louisiana with more than 50 members. Beginning Jan. 1, 2009, the policies will cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders in children under age 17. The annual benefit cap is $36,000 annually, with a $144,000 lifetime benefit cap.
Gumm said the Louisiana bill is targeted to the early years of a child’s life during which diagnosis and treatment can do the most good. “Like our bill, this is not a ‘blank check’,” he said. “It makes treatment available to families who pay for health insurance during the years when treatment can lead to significant improvement.”
Jindal is considered one of the national Republican Party’s “rising stars.” Most pundits put him on the short list to be the vice presidential choice by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Jindal is not the first high-profile Republican governor to sign autism insurance legislation this year. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, another potential Republican vice presidential pick, signed that state’s autism bill last month – a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.
Also, in Pennsylvania, Republican House Speaker Dennis O’Brien championed a measure - which passed the House unanimously and a Republican-controlled state Senate 49-1 – that will allow parents of autistic children to pay for behavioral therapy and related services with private health insurance. Pennsylvania’s Gov. Ed Rendell has already said he will sign the bill.
“In state-after-state, bills requiring coverage of autism diagnosis and treatment are crossing the partisan divide, and that was the case in the Oklahoma Senate,” Gumm said.
“Speaker Benge and his team could have been heroes to autistic children; we begged them to do so. Instead they chose the shameful path of putting partisan interests and big insurance ahead of children’s futures. The Speaker’s position is not only out-of-step with Oklahoma values, it is out of step with Republicans nationwide.”
Gumm said he will revive the proposal next February when the Oklahoma Legislature returns for the 2009 session. “This is an issue that is not going away because these kids and their families are not going away,” Gumm said.
“These families need our help; they need to have the kind of health insurance coverage that children in Louisiana and now 20 other states will get because of the bipartisan wisdom and courage of which Speaker Benge and his leadership team are apparently unwilling or incapable.”