New Jersey Senate, Assembly Panels Advance Autism Coverage Bill
Committees in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would provide insurance benefits of up to $36,000 annually for autism treatments, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The funding, provided to developmentally disabled individuals younger than age 21, would go toward diagnostic services and early behavioral intervention, as well as occupational, physical and speech therapies. The Assembly could vote on the bill as early as Thursday, while the Senate bill is being considered by the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D), who sponsored the Senate bill, said, "I don't know of any parent who wouldn't do everything in their power to give their autistic or developmentally disabled child every chance to excel. However, the enormous cost of behavior intervention ... makes it out of the realm of possibility for many families." Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D), who sponsored the Assembly bill, said, "In this economy, every New Jersey resident is struggling, but families with kids with special needs are struggling even more," adding, "They're maxing out their credit cards and taking out second mortgages" to cover gaps in health insurance benefits.
Citing cost issues, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association and the New Jersey Association of Health Plans were among those opposed to the bill. Christine Stearns, NJBIA vice president for health and legal affairs, said that the bill would make employer-sponsored insurance more costly and cause firms to drop such coverage, adding, "How, who and what is part of a basic health plan is all part of that." Stearns added that the bill is preferable to previous versions because it mandates that covered services be medically necessary and prescribed, places a reasonable cap on prices and ensures that the cost of educational services provided by schools is not shifted to insurers. Roberts said the bill would save money by delivering earlier treatment that could prevent more costly problems in the future (Henry, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/19).