Advocates for autistic children moved one step closer to a long-sought legislative victory Tuesday, as the House of Delegates advanced legislation requiring some employee insurance plans to provide limited coverage for early intervention services.
The House advanced the bill on a voice vote after supporters thwarted an effort to weaken the measure. Republican backers also pushed back at conservative critics who have charged them with hypocrisy for backing a state insurance mandate while opposing the massive federal health care overhaul.
"It is the most restrictive autism bill in the country, but it will help hundreds of families that desperately need our assistance," said Del. Thomas "Tag" Greason, R-Loudoun County, the bill’s sponsor.
Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William County, said "there is no essential contradiction" in supporting the autism coverage mandate and opposing the federal health care law. Marshall last year sponsored legislation designed to protect Virginians from being required to purchase health insurance. He also has sponsored bills to require insurers to provide autism coverage.
"We’re not mandating that you purchase insurance, but that if the insurance is purchased, it must come in a particular form or shape or type," Marshall said.
Marshall may have been responding to a Washington Times editorial titled "Obamacare, Jr.":
Bizarrely, it’s the GOP leading the charge to expand the government’s role in the Old Dominion. By a 16-6 vote last week, a House of Delegates committee approved a measure that would compel insurance companies to provide up to $35,000 worth of annual coverage for the treatment of children diagnosed with autism. The measure has the strong backing of House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican who apparently enjoys passing legislation that “does something” about some sort of terrible affliction - as long as he is spending someone else’s money.
The problem isn’t so much that the autism bill would drive up the already high cost of insurance for everyone; a state analysis showed more sweeping coverage would have cost an extra $59 per year. Rather, the issue is the cumulative effect of all the coverage mandates in Virginia and around the country. According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, Virginia’s 57 separate insurance policy requirements place it at No. 5 on the list of most-regulated states. Maryland, one of the four with a higher chart position, already has autism coverage. It also forces insurance companies to pick up the $100,000 tab for in vitro fertilization treatment and subsidize contraceptives and nicotine patches. Maryland even forces companies to include homosexual “domestic partners” on policies. Taken together, these schemes drove up the cost of an individual insurance policy by 19 percent, according to a 2008 study by the Maryland Health Care Commission.