A bill that would mandate insurance coverage of autism testing and treatment in Utah will advance to the floor of the state Senate. The Senate Business and Labor Committee approved the bill 5-2 Thursday, despite lawmakers concerns that the bill would not only cost taxpayer money, but would also drive up health insurance premiums.
The bill’s sponsor Republican Senator Brian Shiozawa is a doctor and former president of the Utah Medical Association. He told the committee that autism treatment is proven to be effective, and would help an estimated 18,000 Utah children with the disease. He pointed out that 32 states have already embraced the mandate.
“This is one of the most significant bills that you will face in this session,” said Shiozawa, “It is an opportunity to make great medical changes in people’s lives.”
Shiozawa told the committee that his bill is the next step following up on an autism treatment pilot program approved by the legislature last year. That program is providing therapy to 300 Utah children, paid for by the state and private donors. One of the participants, Cari Brown, testified that her 3-year-old son Craig has shown phenomenal progress. But after the program ends next year, Brown won’t be able to afford this kind of treatment, unless her insurance company helps pay for it.
“The therapy has taken Craig to a whole new level of communication and socialization, and it’s giving him the skills and tools necessary to hopefully one day be an independent adult. While we are beyond thrilled with Craig’s incredible progress, we have grave concerns about what happens next,” said Brown, “Each and every day I ask myself what happens when this program ends.”
Republican Senator Deidre Henderson said she sympathizes with families of autistic children, but that she has misgivings about what an insurance mandate might cost in the future as more people are diagnosed. One out of 47 Utah children have been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, one of the highest rates in the country. Under SB 55, the state would pay $1,338,000 dollars in the first year to meet the coverage requirements for state employees, public education, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“There’s also another cost”, Henderson said, “and that’s in the consumers of private health insurance plans and people who have plans through their employers. Their insurance premiums go up and up and up. I do think we need to address this problem; I’m not certain this is the right vehicle for it, though.”
Shiowaza told the committee that premiums would only go up by about 31 cents per member per month.