Autism Coverage Bill Clears the House – If Reluctantly

Representative Brad Dee (R) speaks on the House Floor
Representative Brad Dee (R) speaks on the House Floor

Families with children diagnosed with Autism will soon be able to claim early intervention treatment on their insurance claims. The House and Senate have both passed SB 57, which requires Utah insurance companies to cover evidence-based treatments for children on the Autism Spectrum Scale.

The House sponsor of the legislation, Majority Leader Dee (Republican – Ogden), commended the efforts of the Senate sponsor Brian Shiozawa (Republican – Cottonwood Heights), calling Autism a “devastating disorder affecting one in every 47 children in Utah.” Currently, 34 states have similar provisions requiring early intervention coverage. Dee also noted that the bill was endorsed by not only Autism community members, but the Utah Medical Association and the Utah Pediatrics Association.

Some lawmakers, like Representative Dean Sanpei (Republican – Provo), were worried that requiring Autism treatment coverage would open the door to abuse, but Sanpei was assuaged when the bill put in place cost shifting for small businesses, and required that all treatments be evidence-based.

Representative Roger Barrus (Republican – Centerville) spoke in favor of the bill, saying he regreted that similar bills have been run in the past but until now, had failed. “I was talking to my colleague [Rep Dee] and we were comparing notes, […] he ran a similar bill [a few years ago] and I remember the door was slammed in his face. I ran one a couple years later and the door was slammed in my face with an apology.”

Representative Dan Lifferth (Republican – Eagle Mountain) was among those who very reluctantly supported the bill, saying that while he felt that requiring coverage for Autism treatments was too much “government overreach” for his liking, many of his constituents had asked him to support the bill.

In his closing statement, Representative Dee brought some frankness to the conversation. “It was probably a good thing I was the House sponsor,” said Dee “not because I could pass a bill,” Dee paused with tears in his eyes, “but because I had so many questions. Last year I would not have voted for this bill. […] Help me support these families, help me support this bill.”

The bill passes the House 69-3, with Reps Nielson (Republican – Bountiful), Wilcox (Republican – Ogden) and Roberts (Republican – Santaquin) voting no. The bill will be sent to the Senate for confirmation.

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