Keller to let autism bill move out of committee

Wide support persuades chairman to let proposal advance toward a vote.

Associated PressApril 13, 2012 

JUNEAU -- Rep. Wes Keller still sees flaws in a bill that extends insurance coverage to some children for treatment of autism, but the chairman of the House Health and Social Services Committee said Friday that he plans to let the widely supported proposal move out of his committee.

The bill, SB74, requires private health insurance companies to cover top-notch treatment of autism for kids insured under their policies. The plan would spell out a requirement of coverage for applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy and other methods deemed medically necessary by a doctor. ABA is time-intensive and costly but is widely regarded as the best method to treat autism.

Some insurance companies voiced opposition of the measure, and Keller sympathized with their claim that it is unfair to put the burden on private companies without extending the onus to the rest of the market. Premera Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Alaska claimed a 3 percent increase in its premiums will likely occur, and said the bill only affects 15 percent of the market with the rest uninsured or covered under public plans.

Keller said after a hearing on the bill Wednesday that he was unlikely to let it through, but now six cross sponsors of the bill are members of his committee. They and the bill's 29 overall cross sponsors in the House have won out.

He said Friday he has realized his position on the matter leaves him in a "pretty severe minority."

"Emotion has hidden some of the aspects of this bill that needed to be discussed," Keller said. "But I respect the wishes of the majority, and I'll let it move."

He said the bill will move at a Saturday morning hearing with enough time to advance for a floor vote.

The proposal by Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, cleared the Senate, 14-5, in February but had been stuck in Keller's committee since then.

If everything goes as planned Saturday, the bill will move to the Labor and Commerce Committee as scheduled. That committee could, however, waive the bill to ensure a floor vote takes place before session ends at midnight Sunday.

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