Commentary: Mandated Health Insurance Coverage Needs Study

Article excerpt

Interim studies, particularly in election years, often are proposed for legislative measures to avoid a potentially unpopular but objectively justifiable vote on a specific bill or issue.

Such was likely the case for state Sen. Jay Paul Gumm's bill to mandate health insurance coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism. His Senate Bill 1537 died in the Economic Development and Financial Services Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives when the chairman, state Rep. Ron Peterson, R- Broken Arrow, refused to hear it.

Last-minute efforts in the closing days of the legislative session to force consideration of the bill failed but an interim study to determine its cost to health insurance ratepayers was approved by Speaker of the House Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, who reportedly said parents of autistic children will be included.

Without question the issue is an anecdotally emotional one for those who must deal with the heart-wrenching and costly care of an autistic child. It also makes for insurance-company-bashing quotes on the six o'clock TV "soap" news.

It is virtually impossible to visit with even the most reasonable and cogent parent of such a child for even a few minutes without realizing and sympathizing with the mental, emotional and financial stress they endure. Unfortunately this poignancy often blurs objectivity in considering the real effect of such legislation.

Gumm's bill is part of a national movement to get states to mandate health insurance coverage for autistic children. Conflicting studies have been cited regarding increased health insurance costs to ratepayers and in some cases such as Oklahoma the same study is being used by Gumm and Peterson to prove such a law will or will not result in higher health insurance rates.

The study was done by James Bouder of the Vista Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based autism advocacy group. The senator says it shows passage of his bill "would not spike insurance costs and ultimately would save taxpayers millions." He added it shows the cost would be less than one-half penny for every dollar in premium costs.

"Such a negligible cost would not drive up the number of uninsured Oklahomans while providing needed benefits to families struggling to care for their autistic children. …