Nick's Law Supporters Push for Insurance Mandate

Wednesday, January 14th 2009, 7:18 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It seems one of the more contentious issues this coming session, just like last session, is going to be care for autistic children.

Not only will Democrats make a renewed push for Nick's Law, mandating insurance companies provide autism benefits, but House Republicans, who killed Nick's Law last year, are entering the fray with their own autism legislation.

The GOP is also hoping to make autism treatment more accessible. Without creating an insurance mandate; whether that's realistic or not is open for debate.

What House leadership wants to do is increase the number of qualified behavioral therapists in the state, and then let market forces bring down the cost of their services, and at the same time, increasing access to them.

"Through the course of our study, we determined that the place to start is with developing, growing that network of service providers, developing that infrastructure, and we believe that is an appropriate function of government," Kris Steele (R) District 26 said.

Wayne Rohde welcomes the GOP proposal, but the father of autistic Nicholas Rohde, the Nick's Law namesake, says it still won't get to the heart of the problem.

"It provides some of the support services, but we still haven't found the mechanism to pay for the services," Rohde said. "It's like building a home. They're providing the walls and roof, the foundation hasn't been laid."

The only way to do that, Rohde says, is through an insurance mandate, which, he says supporters of Nick's Law understand.

"They know that if they would pass the mandate, practitioners would flock to the state," Rohde said. "It's not the other way around. The reason why we don't have anyone here now is because they can't make a living."

Democrats also welcome the Republican initiative, but say it still comes up short.

"They are more interested in having it driven by market, which is going to take some time, and what we feel is, those people that have autistic children, they need help right now," Rep. Brian Renegar (D) District 17 said.

"We feel like that our plan is a more responsible plan in that it will help us address the problem immediately and in the long term without adversely affecting the cost of health care for everyone living in our state," Steele said.

That's the argument that opponents of Nick's Law make, that mandating autism benefits will drive insurance premiums up for everyone, meaning even more Oklahomans would be unable to afford insurance.