Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed several changes to one of the most high profile bills to pass the General Assembly this year – a measure that would extend insurance coverage to autistic children ages 2 to 6.
One amendment would require the Board of Medicine to license behavior analysts, who oversee autism treatment, and another allows for an independent assessment of treatment plans to ensure that the treatment is “justified and effective.”
Another would strike down the entire law if a Virginia court or federal law invalidates the $35,000 annual cap on benefits in the legislation. The measure would include public employees but not small businesses.
The amendments mark a compromise between the governor’s administration and relevant stakeholders, including those pushing for the coverage and business interests that opposed the measure.
“We have communicated with the patrons to ensure this legislation is in the proper form to guarantee the balance between meeting the needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders , their parents who purchase insurance coverage, businesses who provide insurance to their employees, and the industry that provides the coverage,” said McDonnell.
The General Assembly will reconvene April 6 to act on the proposed amendments.
McDonnell's proposed alterations to the autism bill encountered resistance Tuesday from Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate.
Under heavy pressure from business and corporate interests such as the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the insurance industry lobby that oppose the bill, McDonnell proposed subjecting some autism treatment providers to Board of Medicine licensure, said legislators knowledgeable about discussions with the administration. He also proposed delaying the measure's effective date by six months, to July 2012.
The lawmakers said McDonnell wants to tighten eligibility for some small employer groups and make the treatment less available by requiring that it be provided directly by a certified provider, not someone supervised by a certified provider as bill prescribes.
The legislators spoke privately with The Associated Press on Tuesday, fearing public comments would derail talks with McDonnell.
"This is a very popular bill that helps a lot of children and families and it would be tragic if the governor were to veto or amend it," said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County and a sponsor of the legislation.
Her bill and its House counterpart sponsored by Del. Thomas A. Greson, R-Loudoun, passed the House and Senate with more than the two-thirds majorities necessary to override a veto. The bill's most powerful supporter was Republican House Speaker Bill Howell.
Only a simple majority is necessary to reject an amendment during the April 6 one-day reconvened legislative session. But McDonnell has authority under Virginia's Constitution to unilaterally veto a bill next week's session his alterations are denied by majorities of two-thirds or greater.
McDonnell's chief spokesman, J. Tucker Martin, acknowledged Tuesday evening that the governor will propose amendments, "but I cannot offer any information regarding what those amendments will contain."