It is always fascinating to see which bills in the Alabama Legislature become this year’s “for the children” bills. (Side note: I always wonder why so many “for the children” bills ensure that money keeps flowing to adults.)
One of this years “for the children” bills is House Bill 284, commonly known as the autism bill. AL.com says HB284 is “a bill calling for mandated health insurance coverage for behavioral therapy for eligible children with autism.” Any legislator daring to question this legislation or the specific requirements of the bill is considered a jerk at best and a heartless, hater of challenged children at worst. This is exactly why HB284 passed the House of Representatives with an almost unanimous vote. Legislators with questions and concerns knew that people back home would not understand why anyone would not help children, and the media was not going to present the other side. Even legislators opposed to the legislation ended up voting for it.
I understand what happens on this type of legislation. If the bill ever makes it to the floor of the House or Senate for a final vote, legislators are told “you have to vote for it.” The name of the bill, and the emotions driving the bill, are so strong that the details no longer matter. That is why we need to discuss the legislation itself.
According to an AL.com article written by Trisha Cain: “About 50,000 families in Alabama are affected by autism, a developmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact.” HB 284 would require therapy/classes to be paid for by insurance companies. The AL.com article continues: “The gold standard for autism therapy is applied behavioral analysis or ABA, and there has been a dramatic increase in its use over the past decade, according to Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization working to improve the lives of those with autism. In people with autism, ABA therapy fosters basic life skills like reading and interacting appropriately with others.” This therapy is basically classes or training sessions for these life skills.
When our feelings are put aside, HB284 is simply a mandate on insurance coverage exactly like the ones found in Obamacare. Why would Alabama pass insurance mandates at the same time that President Trump is trying to repeal such mandates? I thought Republican legislators were against Obamacare mandates. Mandated coverage forces costs to go up and premiums rise. That is a fact. There is no way around it. Supporters of the legislation simply say that the costs will not go up much. Many Alabamians are already paying more than they can afford so that their family can have insurance. Being flippant about taking a few more dollars a year from working families should not happen in the legislature.
The second big problem with the legislation is that there is no limit on the accumulated cost of the coverage or the age of those receiving the benefit. Usually “for the children” diminishes when it is no longer for children, but not in HB284. The benefits go on through life regardless of the total cost. AL.com in the same article mentioned earlier reports that one of the supporters of the legislation administers these classes/therapy sessions, and she currently charges as much as $75 per hour. What will the cost be when the state law mandates that she be paid? HB284 does not say. If it has to be paid regardless of the cost, cost will inevitably go up.
I know. Don’t ask questions. It’s for the children.
The third, but by no means the last, problem with this legislation is that it is a hidden tax. When government uses its power take money out of your pocket it is a tax. It does not matter what they call it. This legislation with all of its good and noble intentions on the hard working families of Alabama who are trying to pay their own way. Their insurance rates will just go up, and they will never know why. They may even blame it on Obamacare. They will never think their Republican representative did it to them. The legislator can go home and claim to oppose taxes, but he cannot claim that he did not make insurance more expensive.
I am not saying that the Alabama Legislature is wrong to want to help families dealing with the expenses of Autism therapy. Maybe the legislature will decide that it is something that all Alabamians must pitch in to provide. However, I am saying that HB284 is not the right way to do it. Hopefully the Senate will get this one right.
Scott Beason can be heard on Superstation 101.1 WYDE Monday – Friday, 9am to 11am.