House Committee Kills Autism Bill

Tuesday, February 3rd 2009, 11:03 pm
By: News 9

By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahomans battling autism came from across the state hoping to convince the House Economic and Financial Committee that they should pass this measure, but the Republican-controlled committee did not because it felt that such a vote would cause insurance rates to spike.

Doctor Juliet Burk did everything to convince them otherwise. After her two sons were diagnosed with autism at an early age, the self-proclaimed conservative Republican left Oklahoma and moved back to her native New York state to seek treatment for her children that Oklahoma did not provide.

"Somebody said, "Where's your validation for services?" Dr. Burk said. She pointed to her son next to her.

Dr. Burk moved back to Oklahoma and now has a thriving medical practice in Tahlequah. She said her sons no longer show signs of autism and the medical care they received was cost-effective.

"These guys were not expensive because there was a funded infrastructure that they could access right away," Dr. Burk said.

Because the authors of House Bill 1312 failed to specify an insurance premium increase, the measure was shot down.

Nine voted in favor, five against, but it failed to pass.

Wayne Rhode, whose son Nick is the inspiration for the bill, is outraged.

"These folks are struggling," Rhode said. "These parents are struggling to provide what they need for these families. This is shameful."

Rhode was one of more than a dozen families who came to the capitol in support of the bill.

"I challenge them right now to look at these parents and tell these parents that their children are not going to receive any help because of this actions," Rhode said.

Representative Daniel Sullivan (R-District 71), who chaired the committee said it was a risk he didn't want to take.

"What we do not want to have occur is additional increases in premiums where people that have insurance now are added to the uninsured and it makes this whole cycle so much worse," Representative Sullivan said.

The committee passed a motion to increase the number of therapists for autistic children. It also passed a measure preventing the House from bringing Nick's Law back to committee for at least two more sessions.

A similar bill could have a chance in the Senate.

Critics of an insurance mandate believe the market will drive autism coverage. Their example is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, which has added limited benefits for children with autism.