Legislators are making progress on a measure that would mandate that insurance companies provide health coverage and treatment for Kansas children diagnosed with autism.
The issue has been the topic of debate in the Statehouse for several sessions and is moving closer to reality. Coverage would help families cope with the cost of providing treatment for autistic children.
The House voted 114-3 on Friday to send the bill to the Senate where its passage was uncertain.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that during debate on the House floor that supporters argued the autism mandate imposed on state-regulated insurance companies was needed to bring Kansas in line with other states.
The progress was the first significant advance of legislation regarding autism after years of efforts by legislators and parents to help autistic children.
"This is important public policy," said Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican involved with drafting the bill. "It's the right thing to do."
As advanced by the House, the measure would set requirements for the number of hours autistic children would receive services, as well as age limits. Insurers would have to cover applied behavior analysis for up to 25 hours weekly for four years following a child's diagnosis. Those services would drop to 10 hours once the child reached age 12.
The law would cover about 250 children who qualify through large-group plans after January 2015, while roughly another 750 children would be able to get coverage through small-group or individual market plans in January 2016.
The measure could be used as a mechanism for improving services for the estimated 8,400 children in the state, said Rep. Don Hill, an Emporia Republican.
"This doesn't go really as far as a great majority wish it could," he said. "It's a big step in the right direction."
Critics of the measure said that mandating the coverage went further than the federal Affordable Care Act by intruding into how insurance companies determine what services to cover.
Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, raised those concerns, though he promised to defend the House views as a negotiator who would be involved in meetings with Senate counterparts later in the session despite his own misgivings.
"We're mandating more than Obamacare does," Schwab said. "There is a reason Congress is scared to campaign on the ACA. When you do it, people get upset."
House members turned back several amendments to alter the bill as Rubin warned that changes regarding hours of treatment or age limits could upset the balance struck between insurance companies and legislators.
"I didn't know I worked for insurance companies," said Rep. Stan Frownfelter, a Kansas City Democrat. "We're here to represent the people. These young men and women are trying to find their way through life. We need to give them a chance."
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