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Friday, September 9, 2011

Mandates Passes California Assembly

Breaking News:
SB 946 By Senate President Steinberg Expected To Pass Senate - If Senate Passes Bill Will Head Next To Governor - Governor's Position on Legislation Not Certain - Has Until October 9th To Sign or Veto Bills

SACRAMENTO, CALIF (CDCAN) [Last updated 09/09/2011 12:43 PM] - The Assembly, in its final day of the 2011 regular legislative session, passed by a vote of 51 to 10, a potential landmark piece of legislation that would require health insurance plans to cover as a benefit, certain behavioral intervention therapies for persons with autism spectrum disorders. The bill, SB 946 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (Democrat - Sacramento), heads back to the State Senate today for a final likely vote of approval and then heads to the Governor - whose position on the bill is not certain. The Assembly went into recess after the vote and will reconene later this afternoon.

The bill passed with amendments, the Assembly Appropriations Committee yesterday (September 8th) by a vote of 12 to 5

Assemblymember Jim Beall Jr. (Democrat - San Jose), chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee, brought the bill up for a vote on the Assembly floor saying that "we have a special responsibility to help children, period." . He promised to work with the federal government that mental health parity - including treatment for autism - will be covered by federal Medicaid funding but that the legislation now was a "transition bill" that will immediately address critical needs of thousands of families. Beall is the step-father of an adult children with developmental disabilities.

Insurance companies opposed to SB 946, claimed that the bill excludes children covered by Medi-Cal and discriminates against them. Several Republican Assemblymembers rose to oppose the bill, citing those reasons saying that the exclusions of children in the Medi-Cal or Healthy Families program was not fair. However Assemblymember Wes Chesbro (Democrat - Arcata) who strongly supported the bill, argued back that if SB 946 did cover those children opponents of the legislation would still oppose the bill.

Other Republicans including Assemblymember Harkey said the bill focused on an area that needs to be addressed, but opposed imposing a further mandates on businesses during a bad economy - and that the State's leadership needed to establish priorities so money could be found for the bill. Others said it was unfair to the private sector to impose more mandates or requirements.

Assembly Democrats however said the measure was a "first step" - and said they were "confused" by Assembly Republican opposition because of the exclusion of children covered by Medi-Cal or Healthy Families - when they opposed a previous version of the legislation that did not contain those exclusions.

Similar Bill SB 770 Held In Assembly Appropriations Committee
A similar bill by Steinberg, SB 770, was held in Assembly Appropriations Committee after strong opposition from health insurance plans who claimed the bill would increase health insurance premiums and required coverage that is more appropriately the responsibility of the schools or other entities. .

Disability advocates, including regional centers and thousands of families with children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities, strongly urged passage of SB 770 - and now SB 946, saying that health insurance plans had a responsibility to provide this critically important coverage that is costing the State hundreds of millions of dollars in State general fund spending.

Next Steps
* If the State Senate, as expected, gives final approval of the bill later today, Governor Brown has until October 9th to sign or veto bills sent to him by the Legislature in the final weeks of the legislative session.
* The Governor's position on the legislation - strongly opposed by many health insurance plans - is not clear, though some disability advocates fear that he could be considering a veto. [CDCAN will be issuing a more detailed report and action alert on this bill following the final action by the State Senate later today]
* The bill, if it is approved by Governor Brown, would technically becomes effective January 1, 2012, the actual provisions go into effect for health care service plans and health insurance policies after July 1, 2012 as policies are issued, renewed or amended, to include (but not limited to) applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for persons with autism spectrum disorders as defined in the bill (persons with pervasive developmental disorder or autism).