House snubs vote on austim mandate

Print This Post Print This Post Jul 27th, 2008 | By admin | Category: Government

By Associated Press 

OKLAHOMA CITY — House Speaker Chris Benge said Thursday he does not plan to schedule a vote on legislation that would require health insurers to cover autistic children, despite pleas from parents that the bill be heard. 

Benge, R-Tulsa, said House Republican leaders did not plan to bring the bill up out of concern that the autism mandate would drive up the cost of health insurance policies and make it unaffordable for many Oklahomans. The measure received bipartisan support when it passed the Senate. 

“It’s not easy to say no to something like this,” Benge told reporters after a news conference about a task force that will study growing health care costs and uninsured Oklahomans. The parents of autistic children attended the news conference. 

“It’s very difficult. It’s very emotional,” Benge said. But an analysis of the autism mandate indicates it would increase the cost of state employee health insurance by $6 million a year, Benge said. That does not include possible cost increases imposed by private health insurers, he added. 

“When we mandate something like this, it increases the cost,” the House speaker said. “We don’t want to make health insurance unaffordable for Oklahomans.” 

Parents of autistic children characterized any cost increase as minute and vowed to step up public pressure for the House to give the bill a hearing before lawmakers adjourn at the end of May. 

“To protect the insurance industry, we’re totally ignoring the taxpayers,” said Wayne Rohde of Edmond, whose 10-year-old son, Nick Rohde, suffers from autism. The autism mandate bill originally passed by the Senate was dubbed “Nickµs Law.” 

Rohde said House GOP leaders do not understand that refusing to require health insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autistic children places the burden of caring for them on taxpayers. 

“It’s totally irresponsible to put all the pressure on the taxpayers and on the school districts for care,” Rohde said. 

The Senate author of Nick’s Law, Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, accused Benge and House Republican leaders of “turning their back on Oklahoma’s autistic children and their families.” 

“They deserve a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives,” Gumm said. “One man cannot, nor should not, silence the voices of these families, these children and their duly elected representatives. 

“Many of us are committed to continuing this fight for thousands of Oklahoma children and their families.” 

About 20 parents of autistic children were at the state Capitol to focus attention on the insurance mandate bill. Rohde and others asserted that the measure has broad support in the Republican-controlled House and that it would pass if brought up for a vote. 

“They’re refusing to allow the people’s business to be heard,” Rohde said. Nearby, a 19-year-old autistic man, David Blose, stood near his mother, Dee Blose, with a note attached to his shirt that read: “I Need Insurance.” 

Many other states, including Texas, have passed autism coverage mandate bills, supporters said. 

Rohde and other parents said treatment and early intervention can help autistic children become productive citizens. 

“We can recover them so they can have a fulfilling life,” Rohde said. 

But Rodney Miller said treatment for his 3-year-old autistic son costs $5,000 a month and not everyone can afford the cost of treatments. 

“It’s tragic,” Miller said. “These kids can be treated.” Rohde said autistic children are born to up to 500 families each year in Oklahoma. 

“We’re not going away,” he said. “Sadly, our numbers will only increase.”

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