Key legislators cite breakthrough on autism bill

KHI News Service

TOPEKA — House Speaker Ray Merrick on Friday said there’s been progress in behind-the-scenes negotiations over a bill that would require insurance companies to cover autism diagnosis and treatment for many Kansas children that have the disorder.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell.  Photo by Phil Cauthon, KHI

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. Photo by Phil Cauthon, KHI

“We’re finally to the point where I think we’re seeing some agreement between the two parties,” he said, referring to insurance company lobbyists and the legislative sponsors of House Bill 2531.

“I think (autism advocates) will get something. They should be happy,” Merrick said. “They’re not going to get everything they wanted, and neither is the other side. That’s the way the system works. But from what I’ve seen, it’s going to be a good bill.”

Merrick, a Republican from Stilwell, said he has let both sides know that he wants a bill to pass the House this year.

HB 2531 would require state-regulated insurance plans sold before enactment of the Affordable Care Act to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism for beneficiaries ages 18 and younger.

Insurance companies have opposed the bill and earlier versions introduced in previous sessions, characterizing the proposed requirement as a government-imposed mandate that would increase costs and force them to raise premiums.

Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican and the bill’s primary sponsor, said he shared Merrick’s optimism.

“We’re close — no, make that very close,” he said. “There are a couple sticking points remaining, but I’m confident they can be worked out.”

The insurance companies, he said, have agreed to a Jan. 1, 2015, start-up date for the coverage, which is one of the elements in the proposed legislation.

Rubin said there are still differences to settle on how to define coverage limits. Also, he said, the companies want coverage limited to beneficiaries ages 8 and under; the bill’s supporters want ages 18 and under covered.

The bill’s backers say with the upper age limit, about 750 of 8,400 known autistic children in the state could gain benefits. It wasn’t immediately known how many would get benefits if the limit was lowered to age 8.

“I think we’re going to get this done this year,” Rubin said. “That’s short of a guarantee, but it’s close.”

The bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.