Politics

House Committee Scrutinizes Autism Treatment Coverage Bill

Under the popular Senate bill, insurance companies would have to cover autism treatment coverage for children six years old and younger.
Under the popular Senate bill, insurance companies would have to cover autism treatment coverage for children six years old and younger.
Credit Ken Lund / flickr.com/kenlund

A popular state Senate bill requiring private insurers to cover autism treatment for young children was scrutinized Wednesday by members of a House committee. Representatives don’t want small businesses to pay more for insurance.

Under the bill, insurance companies would have to cover autism treatment coverage for children six years old and younger. Insurance Committee Chairman Richard Smith, R-Columbus, says small businesses can’t afford the extra costs.

“How do I go back home and say by the way, we just voted to raise your insurance premium,” Smith says.

But Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, says the costs for taxpayers is much higher without the treatment because studies show early autism intervention is successful. He says it’s more expensive to educate in a special needs classroom versus a regular one.

“If that business is in that precarious of a financial position, I kind wonder whether they’re going to be able to pay their property taxes when all these children show up in elementary school and cost the district an extra $10,000, $12,000, $14,000 per year,” Bethel says.

Smith also raised concerns about the fact that the bill only applies to small business and individual plans and not those that are federally regulated. He says the majority of Georgians wouldn’t gain the treatment coverage. Smith said he would rather see the state implement a statewide sales tax so all Georgia children would have access to the treatment coverage.

Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, says to relieve the burden to small businesses, state lawmakers could explore doing away with other state insurance mandates that are less important.

This is the second year in a row senators have gotten behind autism treatment coverage. They say it’s needed to help families as the prevalence of the disorder increases.

According to the CDC, one in every 64 children in Georgia has been diagnosed with autism. More than 30 states have passed autism treatment coverage legislation.

Last year, the bill failed after being attached to a measure legalizing medical cannabis oil for children with seizure disorders. The legislation got caught in a tug of war between senators and representatives.

The committee plans to hold more hearings on the bill.