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Families flood State House, ask lawmakers to keep moving autism insurance bill forward

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Parents of children with autism packed the Alabama State House Thursday for a public hearing on a bill mandating insurance coverage of autism therapies.

They are determined this bill will not die without a fight.

The Senate General Fund Committee is expected to vote on the bill next week. It already passed the House unanimously.

Moms and dads sporting stickers and buttons sat before the committee Thursday asking for help.

“If my child had cancer, we wouldn't be having this conversation,” Lisa Riley told ABC 33/40. “It feels very personal that because my kid has autism that we still have to have this conversation about having his treatment covered.”

Lisa Riley traveled from Tuscaloosa to be at the State House Thursday. She's been working seven years to try to get a bill like this passed to help her 13 -year old son, George.

Her family pays $18,000 a year for his therapy.

“We sold our $350,000 house,” said Riley. “We bought a $150,000 house. We liquidated our 401K's so we could have as much cash as we could get our hands on.”

Lawmakers listened to families. They also heard from powerful opponents including Robin Stone with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama....

“This cost will not be paid by insurers,” Stone told the committee. “It will be passed on to our customers.”

Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R- Montgomery) says the fight behind the scenes to kill House Bill 284 is strong.

“Unfortunately, in practice very often the legislature finds itself protecting the strong, and in this case, the Business Council of Alabama, which I support, I'm a member for heaven's sakes, and the insurance lobby do not want this insurance bill to pass,” said Brewbaker.

Brewmaker notes that time can be used as a procedural way to kill a bill.

If the committee votes next Wednesday, as Chairman Trip Pittman expects, Brewbaker says there will be time to move it to the floor for an up or down vote.

“What has to happen after that, it not only needs to be on the next special order, it needs to be at the top,” Brewbaker said. “Because all the issues left are controversial. There will be a lot of filibusters, a lot of delays. You're not keeping your promise if you bury the bill at the bottom of seven or eight controversial bills because you know you won't get to it.”

Pittman said he sees benefits of the therapy and he does believe there will be time to get an up or down vote on the Senate floor.

He admits his concern is about the general fund budget. He expects this to have a three to four million dollar impact.

“My message to members is if you’re insistent on raising or providing additional coverages then you have to be willing to pay for it,” Pittman said.

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