Georgia lawmakers are considering a measure that would expand required medical insurance for children with certain autism conditions. Current law caps the requirement to children at age 6. The bill would expand required coverage to children as old as 12.
Lawmakers held a meeting on the bill, introduced by state Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), Wednesday afternoon.
For five years, Anna Bullard of Toombs County led the charge to get autism coverage for children like her daughter Ava, who kicked many of the symptoms of her autism after intensive, early-age treatment. In 2015, the bill finally passed the legislature. Signed by the governor, Ava’s law compels certain insurers to cover autism treatment for children six and younger.
But Bullard now says that law leaves behind too many autism patients.
“Every child deserves to make the progress that they can make, whether they’re three, 10 or 16,” she said.
Bullard was back at the Capitol Wednesday pushing the bill that would broaden Ava’s law, a bill that also caps the insurance payout at $30,000 annually.
In 2015, Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 429, also known as Ava's Law, which provided autism insurance coverage for children under age 6.
The law applies to state-funded insurance programs only. Treatments included are habilitative or rehabilitative services, including behavior analysis; psychiatric, psychological and counseling services; and speech, occupational and physical therapy.
State Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) is skeptical of the proposal.
"How are you going to fund this?" Smith, chairman of the House Insurance committee, asked. "Are you going to ask small businesses again to raise their premiums? What happens sometimes is when small business premiums get so high, they have to tell their employees, we can no longer afford insurance."
"The only groups this bill impacts are small businesses and individual policies," said Smith, who opposed the original Ava's law. "You've got to pay for it somehow."
Bullard doesn't dispute the costs, but said the benefits to autistic children would be immeasurable.
"It doesn’t even show up on the reports that show the most costly things that drive insurance up and autism is never one of those things," she said.