Senate Bill 74, “An Act requiring insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders, describing the method for establishing a covered treatment plan for those disorders, and defining the covered treatment for those disorders; and providing for an effective date” passed on the last day of the session and will go to the governor for his signature after stalling for a time in the House Health and Social Services Committee
Although it passed the Alaska Senate with broad bipartisan support and seems to enjoy the same support in the House, the bill which was last heard Wednesday was held for a time in committee by Committee Chair Representative Wes Keller. Five of the seven members of the House Health and Social Services Committee are sponsors of the measure as well a 23 other House members. The bill passed the Senate with 13 sponsors, 9 Democrats and 4 Republicans.
Many families affected by autism have spoken out in support of the bill describing the painful and economically devastating decisions they have had to make in order to get appropriate treatment for their loved ones. One of those speaking in support of the bill was Rep. Dan Saddler, an Eagle River Republican who described the financial hardships his family endured and the huge changes that were required including by his family including moving out of Alaska so his son could get treatment.
Speaking against the bill were Al Tamagni, representing the National Federation of Independent Business and Sheela Tallman of Premera Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Alaska who pointed out that they seemed to be singled out to provide the coverage. And they seem to be right.
Tamagni testified ,”Why are we the only ones being singled out?” he said. “Why are we picking up all of the tab for this particular program?”
Under Alaska’s insurance system, as was discussed here , only private insurers, approximately 15%, are under direct oversight of the state. This part of the insurance market is governed by the laws and regulations of the state and is the only piece of the pie that can be influenced by those factors. Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage who sponsored the bill said in committee:
“I truly believe its passing will save marriages and keep families together,” he said.