Sen. A.J. Griffin and Rep. Jason Nelson

HOUSE BILL 2962

Sen. A.J. Griffin and Rep. Jason Nelson: A bill co-written by these legislators requires insurance companies to cover the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in children younger than 9.

OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill requiring insurance companies to cover the treatment of autistic children is headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed House Bill 2962, by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie.

The vote was 36-3. Voting against the measure were Sens. Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow, Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, and Anthony Sykes, R-Moore.

The measure requires coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in individuals younger than 9 years old.

If the person is not diagnosed or treated until after the age of 3, coverage shall be provided for at least six years, provided that the child shows sufficient progress and improvement determined by the health-care provider, according to the measure.

“No insurer shall terminate coverage or refuse to deliver, execute, issue, amend, adjust or renew coverage to an individual solely because the individual is diagnosed with or has received treatment for an autism spectrum disorder,” according to the measure.

The bill would limit coverage for applied behavior analysis to 25 hours per week and no more than $25,000 a year.

Griffin said 1 in 68 children in the state are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

She said 25 to 30 people in the state practice applied behavioral analysis, which is low for a state of Oklahoma’s size, Griffin said.

It is low because the treatment doesn’t have a pay source, unless it is out of pocket, she said.

The treatment is effective, she said.

Brown said he was very sympathetic to children with autism, but was concerned about rate increases for businesses and individuals.

“I ask you to vote no on this bill,” Brown said. “It will be a tremendous cost to us as a state and the employers we deal with on a daily basis.”

Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, said failure to provide coverage also has its costs. A mother might have to quit her job to care for the child, he said. Meanwhile, families can get overwhelmed with bills, he said.

“You and I are paying for that in one form or another,” Quinn said.

Griffin offered a successful amendment to the measure that she called a “cost safety valve.”

Under the amendment, if premiums increased by more than 1 percent based on the inclusion of the benefits outlined in the bill, then the mandate would terminate, she said.

Griffin said those who brought the legislation forward are taxpayers and insurance consumers.

“They are families just like us trying to provide for their kids,” she said.

Nelson said there has been great grass-roots support for the measure.

Supporters have shown a willingness to consider the potential cost to premium payers and work with everybody that is interested, he said.

“I think that has paid off finally with bill moving through the process,” Nelson said.

Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465

Barbara.Hoberock@tulsaworld.com

Capitol Bureau Writer

Barbara has covered the statehouse since 1994. She covers politics, appellate courts and state agencies. She has worked for the Tulsa World since 1990. Phone: 405-528-2465