Sunday, November 28, 2010

Autism Insurance Coverage Meets the Great Republican Divide

Last year, Senator Tupac Hunter (D-Detroit) introduced legislation that would require insurance companies to cover treatment for autism. Evaluations, physical and occupational therapy, early interventions - all covered to give these children a chance at a life where they would be able to care for themselves, and in turn decrease the chances that they would be dependent on the system or others for expensive care in the future. The bills also would help relieve the financial burden placed on families who need this treatment to help care for their children now. There has been a national movement in the past few years to require that insurance companies offer this type of coverage, and as of today, twenty three states have signed on.

So, what happened to all this great legislation in Michigan? It was met with obstruction from the Senate Republicans, of course. Here is Senator Hunter, in a special op-ed to the Detroit News, April 4, 2009. (now archived)

It's baffling to me that the Michigan State Senate Health Policy Committee, where these bills were properly referred last session, has been given a pass on taking up these very worthwhile bills.

It would seem that the chairman of the Health Policy Committee, a medical doctor, would best be suited to provide a professional medical opinion on policy that could help children who have been diagnosed with autism . Instead the bills have been referred to the Economic Development and Regulatory Reform Committee, where it seems the bills have been sent to "die." Also, the Republican-led Senate failed to address my bill to establish the autism tax check-off during our last session when I first introduced it, and none of my Republican colleagues signed on as cosponsors when I reintroduced it.

I urge Senate Republican Leadership to put politics aside and think of the needs of these children and their families.

Democrats in the MI House passed autism coverage in July of 2009. HB 4476 passed with bipartisan support 83-25, with the usual anti-government (and future Senate members) Meekhof, Hildenbrand, Jones and Schuitmaker voting against it, amongst others. HB 4183 passed 84-25, same names apply - and perhaps that is why a plea has to be made right now to make one last try at moving these bills through the Senate.

Republican Lt. Governor-elect Brian Calley has a three-year old daughter who has been diagnosed with autism, and this week he is going to meet with the Senate Republicans and make an attempt to break the logjam that has been created by his own party. He made a five-minute video in a plea to lawmakers to consider that "real people" would be condemned "to a life of dependency" if they fail to act.

But Calley is not speaking for the administration of Gov.-elect Rick Snyder, who is not taking a position on the legislation, a Snyder spokesman said last week. And the legislation, opposed by a broad range of business and labor organizations, remains a long shot for final action in the lame-duck session scheduled to end Thursday.

It's unclear which labor organizations are opposed to this legislation. Given the strong Democratic support for these bills though, you have to wonder if including "labor" in that sentence is simply an attempt to portray yet another false equivalency on the part of the press. Whoever they are, they didn't stop Democrats in the House from casting their votes in favor, and they didn't speak up for this story - but the Michigan Chamber of Commerce certainly did, and naturally they automatically resort to the standard teabag talking points. Also, in what may be a preemptive strike or a tip of the hand, watch MCoC president Rich Studley throw in other conditions that they would like to see eliminated from treatment as well.

Rich Studley, president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said "these questions of insurance coverage should be decided in the workplace by employees and employers ... and not by government bureaucrats."

Studley said the specific provisions of insurance plans are best determined by those receiving and paying for the benefits. They might decide their resources are better spent on additional pay or pension benefits rather than insurance coverage for autism or mental illness or substance abuse, he said.

The money people have spoken, and so it shall be. Wish Calley the best of luck on his request, but since this version of the Republican Senate adjourns for good on Thursday, in all likelihood we will see another "no" from Bishop as he completes a Senate career that is only remarkable in the ways that he has hurt the people and the progress of the state of Michigan. Good riddance.

This issue does set-up what could be a very interesting dynamic that may play out for both the Republicans and the Snyder administration in the future though: Will the extreme members of a Republican-led legislature block common-sense measures such as this from seeing daylight? And, let's say those measures do somehow reach the floor, will Democrats then be called on to help pass legislation that would still be opposed by anti-government forces, but if passed also would be considered a "victory" for a Republican governor and a public that wants to see government work for them for a change?

Can the Republicans have it both ways? Looks like we may find out.