Senate Bill 74, which requires health insurance policies to cover treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), has been transmitted by the Governor back to the Legislature. The new law requires insurance coverage for ASDs including medically necessary treatments such as speech and language therapies, occupational and physical therapies, and behavioral interventions. Governor Sean Parnell chose to return the bill to the Legislature without his signature, which under Alaska law will result in enactment. A 20-day period, not including Sundays, for the Governor to sign expires June 27.
"I first introduced this legislation three years ago after meeting with a mother of a child with autism," said Rep. Pete Petersen (D-Anchorage), prime sponsor of the House version of this bill. "When I learned that children were being denied coverage for scientifically proven treatment that could help them lead a normal life, I knew we had to take action."
Senate Bill 74, approved by the Senate in February, was passed by the House on the last day of session after a few minor changes. Families of those affected by autism packed committee rooms and the hallways of the Capitol Building as Senate Bill 74 made its way through the process. Dozens of parents, experts and others testified in support of the legislation.The Alaska Dispatch adds some detail:
"Today, the families of autistic children in Alaska can celebrate a bill that will not only help children, I believe it will help save marriages and families," said Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage), the prime sponsor of SB 74. "Children who receive these medical treatments have a shot at staying home and out of costly institutions where they would be destined to a life of constant and intensive care."
The mandate, Parnell said, "will likely diminish the educational costs, medical costs, and increased lifelong productivity of many individuals, including family members, all interests beneficial to the State," Parnell wrote in a letter attached to the bill.
Although it doesn't need his signature to become law, Parnell didn't sign it because he still has concerns over the cost, his spokesperson Sharon Leighow said.
During testimony, insurance companies said premium costs for those who buy private insurance could be raised as much as 3 percent as a result of the mandate. A peer reviewed study, however, said that it would be much lower than that.