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N.C. Opinions: Raleigh

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Expand autism coverage

From an editorial Sunday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

In the United States, it is estimated that one in every 68 children is autistic. In North Carolina, it’s one in 58. Those are alarming numbers, but so far not alarming enough to move the state Senate to help families coping with the most severe forms of autism.

Last session, the N.C. House, by a vote of 105-7, passed House Bill 498, a measure requiring insurers to provide broader coverage for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. But the bill stalled in the Senate where members were wary of the potential cost.

Having passed one chamber, the bill is eligible to come up during the current short session. That opportunity was almost foreclosed by a Senate proposal for a one-year moratorium on all new health insurance mandates. The proposed moratorium is part of a Republican push for a study that will show how much the Affordable Care Act is costing North Carolina.

In an impressive show of resolve and compassion, a group of GOP House members stood up for the autism bill last week when they did not attend a meeting of the Joint Study Committee on the Affordable Care Act and Implementation Issues. Their absence left the meeting short of a quorum and sidelined the moratorium.

The resistance in the Senate reflects objections from health insurance companies. Most insurers cover treatment of autism involving speech, physical and occupational therapy as well as diagnosis and drugs to treat symptoms. But they don’t want to be required to cover the costly behavioral therapy that has been shown to help severely autistic children learn social skills.

The House has stood up for the autism bill. The Senate should, too. It’s not about Obamacare and health care mandates. It’s about giving children a chance to enter a wider world.

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