“It’s the right thing to do for Georgia’s children,” said Tim Golden, R-Valdosta, chairman of the same Senate Insurance Committee that is likely to pass out HB 707 today.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has also placed his own prestige behind the autism coverage bill, testifying for it in committee – the first time he’s done so in his eight years as president of the Senate.
And Gov. Nathan Deal may have given his sotto voce endorsement. For the first time, the governor’s new budget includes extra cash to make sure insurance policies for state employees include treatment coverage for autism.
But neither the NFIB nor the Georgia Chamber of Commerce intend to “score” lawmakers who vote in favor of the autism bill – which amounts to quiet recognition of the clout behind the measure.
Part of the change in attitude is based on science. An abundance of data shows that the sooner a child is diagnosed and engaged in behavioral therapy, the less severe the repercussions will be later in life. This something that Golden points out when he takes fellow lawmakers on tours of the Marcus Autism Center, which operates under the umbrella of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and is the largest center for autism treatment in the Southeast.
Another thing to keep in mind: Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot has pumped tens of millions of dollars into autism research, making Atlanta one of the top three study hubs in the nation. He is also a prolific donor to Republican causes.
Even tea party-types have gotten onboard. State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, noted that the average public school student costs the state $6,556. Autism nearly triples that price.
“The whole notion that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure comes into play here,” McKoon said. “Yes, the state is mandating this coverage. But the indirect tax that is levied through the mandate – the taxpayer comes out ‘way ahead.”