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The Hot Potato Game Stops: Gov. Brown Signs Autism Law

by Michelle K. Wolf

October 9, 2011 | 4:59 pm

Some prayers were answered today when California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 946, the autism health insurance mandate reform bill, into law today, awful close to the bill-signing deadline of midnight tonight. The Governor signed the bill with some reservations, pointing out in his signing message that there “are remaining questions about effectiveness, duration and the cost of the covered treatments that must be sorted out.”

This bill was authored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who praised Brown’s signature as “a critical victory for thousands of California children and families. For many of them, having this therapy covered by their insurance is the difference between despair and hope.”

The new law will require private health insurers and health plans to provide as a covered benefit, beginning July 1, 2012, behavioral health treatments such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for persons with autism spectrum and related disorders. However, the bill’s enforcement will end July 1, 2014 as national health care reform kicks in, along with its own definitions of “essential health benefits”.

Supported by such groups as Autism Speaks and the Autism Society of Los Angeles, this law was seen as a crucial first step in getting insurance companies to cover “essential health benefits” such as treatments for persons with developmental disabilities. For too long, there’s been a nasty game of “hot potato” that plays itself out, as health insurance companies, school districts, and Regional Centers try to hand off the cost of effective treatment for children with disabilities to someone else. Families have been the big losers, and especially households who don’t have the resources to pay out of pocket.

Although children on Medi-Cal and Healthy Families were ultimately (and unfortunately in my humble opinion) not included in this law, many middle-class and working-class families who are fortunate to have health insurance from their employers will begin to reap the benefits of this plan this summer.

Not a bad way to start off the New Year!

 

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