Autism Bill a Mixed Blessing

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    I was really happy to see that the House of Delegates finally passed a mandate that health insurance companies in the state provide coverage for the diagnosis of autism and the treatment of the disorder from ages two to six. However, after reading the text of the bill as passed, my enthusiasm level dropped quite a bit.

    The bill gives insurance companies a way out of the mandate if the coverage provided requires premiums to go up by 1% or more. Also, there is a $35,000 annual limit on coverage, and that is not indexed to medical inflation. Additionally, and this provision is to be expected no matter what Ken Coochinelli believes, as of January 1, 2014, the state coverage requirement cannot be more stringent than whatever ends up in the plans offered in the state insurance exchange set up under the federal Affordable Care Act passed last year.

    So, while passage in the House of Delegates is a great victory for the families of autistic children, this mandate – if, as expected, it passes the Democratic-controlled State Senate – will be one of the most restrictive in the country. That’s certainly better than the status quo, however.

    As I looked at the names of the 24 delegates who voted against this rather limited bill, I decided to find out how many of those politicians got lots of money from the health care and insurance industry. (That information is very easy to get, thanks to Richmond Sunlight, the website designed by Waldo Jaquith and funded by the Virginia Interfaith Center.) As it turns out, 11 of those politicians over the course of their careers in the General Assembly have gotten more money from the health care business than from any other industry.  

    Here’s a list of the “autism deniers,” how long they have been in the House of Delegates, and their haul from the health care industry:

    Rob Bell (R-Albemarle, 2002-2010): $55,820

    Dickie Bell (R-Staunton, 2010): $10,747

    Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge, 2002-2010): $$57,498

    Johnny Joannou (D-Norfolk, 1998-2010): $14,200

    Chris Jones (R-Suffolk, 1998-2010): $263,683

    Steve Landes (R-Augusta, 1996-2010): $129,175

    Dave Nutter (R-Montgomery County, 2002-2010): $119,182

    Chris Peace (R-Hanover, 2006-2010): $82,384

    Brenda Pogge (R-York, 2010): $$13,350

    Lacey Putney (I-Bedford, “forever”): $101,522

    Roxanne Robinson (R-Chesterfield, 2010): $27,865

    That’s not to say that the others haven’t gotten lots of loot from health care, just that the industry didn’t make it to the top of their contributor lists. For example, Greg Habeeb (R-Roanoke County, 2010) pulled in $21,266, while Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack, 2004-2010) got $52,479.

    Some politicians are capable of rising above the impulse to cater to their political contributors and,instead, look out for the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. Some don’t. I know what I think about the people listed above, which group they belong in.

    • This bill is only, at best, the beginning.  But the passage of it really is a watershed moment.  There is so much misinformation and stereotypes of autism and the treatment needed, and this bill goes a long way to normalizing that and establishing it within the general community as a medical condition that can and should be treated.  For every parent of an autistic child who has heard over and over that the “real problem” is that they are poor parents and it is their fault their child struggles, this bill is a big step forward.