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New Bill Proposes Mandated Coverage for Autism

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With autism steadily on the rise amongst Ohioans, the state legislature is pushing for a pair of mandates that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for the disease.

This effort comes in the wake of a 2009 initiative that failed to expand Ohio’s current mental health insurance statues after it stalled out in the Republican controlled Senate.

However, this time the two bills, HB-598 and SB-381, are seeing strong support from Republicans as well as Democrats, due in part to the greater toll autism has placed on public institutions.

The Ohio Department of Education claims to spend more than $250 million a year to aid autistic kids whose families can’t afford the astronomically high costs of therapy.

Despite its strong bipartisan support, the legislation is still facing strong opposition from the same business groups that spearheaded the campaign against the 2009 edition.

Groups like the Federation of Independent Businesses (FIB) and Chamber of Commerce believe that forcing insurance companies to cover autism is impractical. The FIB and Chamber are worried that the increased costs would drive rates up, making insurance more expensive and discouraging businesses from providing coverage to their employees.

Furthermore, there is skepticism among these groups over the state government’s capability to enforce such a law across the board, raising concern that this law will only end up applying to small insurance companies.

Advocates for the autistic argue that the increase to insurance rates would not be as significant as some are suggesting. They specifically cite a study that monitored states that passed similar insurance reform laws, finding that rates increased by less than a dollar.

Such statistics have influenced the logic behind Republican Representative Cheryl Grossman’s decision to switch her support in favor of the bill.

“I think there is a misconception… it is not nearly as high as what had been thought in the past,” said Grossman. “It’s significantly less than what was talked about five years ago.”

The opposition, however, is unmoved by such a study.

Those opposed believe that the most recent mandate costs should be compounded on top of the scores of mandates that have come before it and that a hard line should be drawn to prevent any rise in rates, no matter how low the price.

If the bills do manage to survive such scrutiny and pass through the legislature, their success is far from assured. It will take serious maneuvering from autism advocacy groups to influence pro-business Gov. John Kasich to lend his signature.

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