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Alaska lawmakers should be applauded for autism health insurance reform

Lorri Unumb

OPINION: The Alaska Legislature has wisely followed the lead of 30 other states by ending the insurance industry's discrimination against families raising children with autism. Under the autism insurance reform law that takes effect June 27, families paying thousands of dollars a year in premiums can no longer be denied coverage for evidence-based treatments, such as Applied Behavior Analysis.

This "controversial" legislation passed on a final vote of 36-3 in the Alaska House and 18-0 in the Alaska Senate. What controversy did arise originated from the widely reported attempts by a single committee chairman [Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla], who tried and failed to thwart the will of the bipartisan majority by attempting to block a vote on the bill.

To those who object that insurance plans for public employees are exempted, please note that the nation's 8 million federal employees, retirees and their dependents will now be offered coverage starting in 2013.

A growing majority of states representing nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population have enacted autism insurance reform because lawmakers have seen how the actual cost impact ends up being a fraction of what opponents had predicted. Once again we see the undocumented claim of a 3 percent impact trotted out in Alaska, just as it had been in a multitude of other states.

In five states where claims data is publicly available, the impact of autism insurance laws has averaged 31 cents per member, per month, less than the cost of a postage stamp. The Missouri Department of Insurance examined its law after one year and found the impact on premiums was 0.1 percent – or 1/30th of the 3 percent impact predicted by the insurance lobby.

Fiscal notes prepared for state legislatures also were a bit off in their calculations, overestimating the impact anywhere from 293 percent in Louisiana to 1,261 percent in Arizona. A $10 million impact on state Medicaid costs forecast in Vermont ended up being $0.5 million.

No, all families are not covered under the Alaska law. Autism Speaks is working to ensure all families receive coverage, whether they have self-funded plans regulated by the federal government, they serve in the military or they are subject to some other exclusion.

The Alaska Legislature is to be applauded for taking the critical first step in helping us reach that goal in your state.

Lorri Unumb is vice president of state government affairs for Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Unumb testified several times before the Alaska Legislature this spring on the autism legislation. 

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