Alabama House unanimously approves bill requiring insurance coverage for autism therapy

The Alabama House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill requiring insurance coverage for autism therapy.

A unanimous vote in the Alabama House of Representatives Thursday was celebrated by families in the Autism Community.

The House passed a bill requiring insurance companies cover medically necessary treatment for autism. Alabama is one of five states that does not have that requirement in place.

The autism community tried to pass a bill like this for years. This is the first time for the measure to pass a chamber at the Alabama State House. It now moves upstairs to the Senate.

During the day long debate, the House gallery was filled with families with children with autism, watching closely, praying for this bill to pass.

Catey Hall, a mom from Birmingham, watched the debate with her four-year-old son Liam on her mind.

"He's just a joy," said Hall. "He's the happiest little boy."

Liam was diagnosed with autism two years ago.

"We're here because we want what's fair," said Hall. "I want my premium to cover my child's medically necessary therapy."

Right now, Hall pays fifteen $1,500 monthly for her son's therapy. She hopes the bill will help her reduce costs.

The bill has heavy opposition from the insurance industry. Blue Cross Blue Shield opposes it.

Representative Jim Patterson is the sponsor. He was visibly emotional after the bill passed.

“I didn't want this bill,” Patterson told reporters as his eyes watered. “I was going to come down here and say no.”

Patterson said a higher power told him to do the right thing.

“I don’t think I was sent down here to the easy things.," said Patterson. "This is for kids upstairs. It is not my bill. I had the honor to carry it and it's the right thing to do.”

Suzanne Dowling of Tuscaloosa was another mom watching the vote with her 25-year-old son, Sam. She said she's seen proof therapy works.

“I know there are people that will move heaven and earth to get whatever they need for their children but there are so many families in Alabama, especially in the rural areas, that can't move heaven and earth but want to,” said Dowling. “And I think just this little bit will bring such a light of hope for so many families.”

Even though the bill passed the House unanimously, there are concerns about how it will impact the cost of Medicaid and the cost of insurance for state employees.

Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R- Vestavia Hills) tells ABC 33/40 it faces a more challenging time in the Senate.

Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman Slade Blackwell told ABC 33/40 it will get a fair hearing and a vote if it makes it to his committee.

Some groups are against this proposal, including the Business Council of Alabama and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.

A representative for Blue Cross and Blue Shield sent ABC 33/40 the following statement, noting it would cost $48 million annually for employers.

“Blue Cross believes that employers who provide the jobs within our state and offer healthcare coverage for their workers should be entitled to determine their employees’ benefits, not the legislature. As premiums, co-pays and deductibles have been pushed up by the Affordable Care Act, this legislation will have the same effect in Alabama. Government mandates increase healthcare costs and premiums, and this legislation will have a serious impact on the costs of coverage for private and public employers.”

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