Legislative Update for May 20 – NC House Passes Autism Insurance Bill!

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The following post was filed by Jennifer Mahan, Autism Society of North Carolina Director of Advocacy and Public Policy.

Crossover Week
Last week, the legislature finished a very busy week known as “crossover.” During each long session the NC General Assembly sets a deadline for policy bills to be approved by one chamber or the other (NC House or NC Senate) so that they can be considered by the other chamber. For example, if a House bill does not get passed by the House, it “dies” (does not go to the Senate) and under most circumstances cannot be brought up for consideration again until the next long session in 2015.

Some bills are not subject to crossover; mostly those that have to do with the budget and appropriating funds. Each chamber sets its rules for which bills need to meet crossover, so sometimes there is a rush to get bills through even if they have money attached to them or impact the budget.

Autism Insurance and Crossover Week
Crossover week is incredibly hectic. Legislators work long days with added committee meetings and long sessions into the night debating bills. This is the atmosphere in which H498, Autism Insurance Coverage, passed the NC House on Wednesday May 15th around 9PM.

The previous day, Tuesday, May 14, the House Insurance Committee had an afternoon hearing on the revised bill, and gave it a favorable report 25 to 4. With that favorable report HB 498 moved on to a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee around 7PM that same night (Tuesday). Eight amendments were proposed during the Appropriations debate and seven were adopted making many changes to the bill (see below for a summary of the new bill). The bill was then added, along with other bills that passed committees that day, to the revised House calendar (the “supplemental calendar”) for the next day, Wednesday, May 15th.

Wednesday’s floor session debate began late in the afternoon and carried over into the evening. Floor debate regarding HB 498 began at 7:50 PM. Our bill sponsors successfully defended the bill against several new amendments that would have significantly weakened the bill including one that would have removed 95% of the insurance plans in the state. The sponsors and other Representatives argued eloquently for the bill: both about its reasonableness for businesses in the state as well as the importance of providing this coverage to children and young adults and how much it will help them and their families. Once the amendments were voted on all of us following the bill held our breath as the Speaker called for the vote. The House allows 15 seconds for members to vote electronically. After 15 seconds that seemed like 15 minutes the vote results were announced: 105 in favor and 7 against (a few of the 120 members were absent). The final vote tally was an incredible show of support! Over the last few days and even hours preceding the vote several members changed their minds and voted in favor.

Thank you to everyone for your advocacy. As I visited with Representatives and checked in with the other advocates working on the bill, I heard over and over about the calls and emails they were receiving in support of the bill. Grassroots advocacy works!

While we are very pleased to have moved HB 498 out of the House, ASNC will need your continued involvement as the bill moves to the Senate where it will need to go through a similar process including committee hearings and a Senate floor vote. Please keep an eye on your email, this blog, and our Facebook and Twitter feeds for future calls to action.

The bill currently includes the following provisions (as amended by the NC House):

  • Covers diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum and related disorders, including ABA therapy.
  • Covers children and young adults up to age 23, who are diagnosed by age 8.
  • Caps yearly behavioral benefits at $36,000.
  • Allows businesses with 50 and under employees to request a waiver from the requirement to offer this coverage if they can show their health care costs have increased by more than 1% over 12 months as a result of offering coverage for autism.
  • Covers group plans in North Carolina who are subject to NC law as well as the State Health plan.

Links to the full content of the bill and an overview of its history can be found here.

For more information you can contact Jennifer via email at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org or 919-865-5068.

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