State Budget Package Finalized; Autism Insurance Reform Set Aside

This article is the first of several wrapping up the 2014 legislative session. Look for more details on the budget and information on other legislation passed during the session in coming days. 

The NC House and Senate agreed on a budget package to adjust the final year of the current two-year budget and passed the conference committee report, i.e. the agreed-upon budget, the week of August 1. The budget includes funding for teacher raises, new crisis services, Medicaid budget shortfalls, and group home support, while cutting some education funding and reducing Medicaid payment rates for services. Existing autism services were retained, and new services are being planned for, but are not yet funded.

Medicaid reform and managed care changes were not agreed upon this session, though legislators likely will return in mid-November to continue work on a compromise. Autism insurance legislation was not passed by the Senate during this short session and was not included in the budget bill.

Despite finalizing the budget, the General Assembly House and Senate were not able to agree on the terms of the adjournment resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 881, which would officially wrap up the General Assembly’s work for the short session but still allow a return for special sessions between now and January, when the new legislative long session begins. The House wanted to return in August to settle differences on coal ash legislation and take up other regulatory bills including autism insurance and then handle Medicaid reform in November. The Senate would prefer to wait until November to handle unresolved issues on coal ash and Medicaid reform, and its version of the adjournment resolution, Senate Adjournment Version 3, makes no mention of autism insurance. Without an agreement on adjournment, the House and Senate have been holding “skeleton” sessions every four days in which a few members start the day’s session, but take up no new business or votes, and quickly close. Legislators were in session Aug. 13-15 to try to fix technical problems in the budget but again had difficulty agreeing on the terms of those fixes. An adjournment resolution to return in November may be agreed on soon, or the skeleton session may continue until then.

Insurance Reform

As mentioned above, the Senate did not take up either bill related to autism insurance reform that was passed by the House. Senate leadership stated publicly a few weeks ago that they did not intend to pass autism insurance reform this year. So, despite insurance reform being included in the House adjournment resolution, which would keep it alive the rest of the year, senators have said they intend to work only on Medicaid reform and coal ash issues, leaving everything else until next year.

Advocates, families, and professionals worked very hard to educate individual senators and Senate leaders about autism and the need for insurance reform. Progress has been made with the Senate on support for the issue, despite a bill not being passed. While the outcome is very disappointing, everyone who participated in our advocacy days, who called, wrote or visited their legislators can be very proud of the work that was accomplished this year. The House continued its strong show of support for the legislation into the final days of the session. Senators have expressed much support for the bill and an interest in seeing new legislation come forward next year. And the State Employees’ Health Plan has voluntarily adopted a new autism insurance benefit that will begin in January. The new benefit can serve as a model for reforming insurance in the state and removes the need for the General Assembly to appropriate funds in a new autism insurance bill next year.

ASNC will continue its work to pass autism insurance reform in North Carolina, building on the work that has already been done and moving forward with new legislation when the General Assembly convenes the long session in late January next year. Thank you again for your help in educating and advocating this year.

If you have questions about public policy issues, please contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, at 919-865-5068 or jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org.

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