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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Uncertain Impact of the Health Law

Phil Galewitz writes at Kaiser Health News:

Autism treatment advocates have won one legislative battle after another since 2007, most recently in California, which sent a bill to the governor this month mandating that insurers cover the disorder. Now more than half the states have such requirements, but that success could be in jeopardy as federal officials set new national standards for health coverage.

Insurers and employers argue that the laws increase health costs because treatment is often expensive and lasts years. But the advocates have prevailed by using federal data showing a growing number of children with the disorder, compelling stories about middle-class families struggling to afford treatment and testimony from celebrity parents of children with autism, including former pro football stars Dan Marino and Doug Flutie.

However, a provision in the 2010 health overhaul law gives the federal government authority to define "benefits" that will be offered on the health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, to individuals and small businesses starting in 2014. If states mandate a benefit, but it isn’t on the federal list, the states would be responsible for the cost of the coverage.

As a result, autism benefits and dozens of other state-required benefits, covering services and conditions such as infertility, acupuncture and chiropractic care, could be at risk. By the end of September, the Institute of Medicine is scheduled to recommend criteria the Department of Health and Human Services should use in determining the essential benefits package. HHS is expected to announce its decision by the end of the year.