House endorses bill requiring insurance coverage of autism disorders

0 | Legislature, Insurance, Medicaid-CHIP

— After lengthy debate that went into the evening, the Kansas House today endorsed a bill that would require that insurance companies cover autism disorders.

House BIll 2764, as amended during the floor debate, also would require autism coverage by the state's HealtWave program. HealthWave covers children in the Kansas Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance programs.

Estimated cost of the HealthWave provision was about $26 million, with about $12 million of that coming from the State General Fund. The balance would be covered by federal Medicaid dollars.

Some opponents of the measure argued that the annual cost to the state and federal governments could reach $57 million. More precise estimates of the cost weren't available to members when they voted on the measure and some cited that lack of information as good reason to send the bill back to a committee for more study.

A motion to do that, however, failed by a margin of almost two to one.

As originally brought to the floor, the bill would only have required that private health insurers include autism coverage in their policies.

Insurance lobbyists opposed the measure arguing it would add to the cost of insurance premiums.

But supporters said that new requirement for private insurers would extend coverage to an estimated 2,300 Kansas children with autism or related disorders.

The bill would cap the benefits payable by the companies at $36,000 a year for children under age seven. For children ages seven and older the benefit would be capped at $27,000 per year.

Supporters said the higher benefit cap for younger children was because studies have shown that early interventions are most helpful to those with autism.

Rep. Charlotte O'Hara, an Overland Park Republican, offered the amendment that expanded the coverage mandate to include children in HealthWave.

She said lawmakers shouldn't force private insurers to provide coverage for something the state declined to do in its own health insurance programs.

Her amendment was passed, 108-11.

Autism coverage was piloted in the State Employees' Health Benefit Plan. Supporters said early evidence from the pilot program was that the autism coverage had added about 14 cents per policyholder per month in premium costs.

Rep. Arlen Siegfried, offered an amendment that would exempt small businesses with health plans from covering autism disorders if they could demonstrate to the state insurance commissioner that the coverage caused the cost of their insurance policies to increase 2.5 percent or more in a single year.

The bill was tentatively approved on a voice vote and then on a final vote was passed, 92-30.

The Senate and House both concluded consecutive days of heavy floor work and each adjourned until Monday.