JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri legislators were warned of an impending "autism tsunami" as committees in both chambers heard bills mandating insurance coverage for autism.
Both versions of the bill referenced speculation that there will be an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism. However, a large disparity of the issue remains how much insurance premiums will increase.
A similar bill that would mandate insurance coverage for autism was passed in South Carolina. Lorri Unumb of South Carolina, a mother of a child with autism and an Autism Speaks advocate, testified that Missouri should do the same on Tuesday.
"There is a huge autism tusnami that is about to hit the state of Missouri," Unumb said, "and it's going to cost the state an extraordinary amount of money in special education, adult care and instititutionalization if this current generation of kids does not get the treatment that it needs."
Neither the House nor the Senate took any action on the bill. Committee chairman Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said action on the bill could take place as early as next week.
Other proponents of the bill highlighted the increased diagnosis of autism nationally with the help of active screening programs, increased awareness and an overall neurological increase.
Members of the opposition pointed out the number diagnosed varies from one in 60 to one in 150 children.
The greatest concern voiced by representatives of insurance companies opposing the bill is that mandating autism coverage will push premiums too high for their customers, especially for small businesses.
While proponents of the bill said the increase in insurance premiums will be miniscule, his statistics show an increase of up to 3 percent per member per month, said David Smith, a Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield lobbyist.
The insurance company is interested in working out a compromise in which children are covered and premiums remain affordable, Smith said.
"We, as the insurance carriers -- not only this year but also last year -- are not necessarily in opposition to the concept of providing care for kids but were looking at more of a logical side than the emotional side," Smith said.
The Missouri legislature must first determine, said William Shoehigh, representing United Healthcare Inc., whether the increase in autism is a tsunami or trickle. He asked both committees to consider exempting small businesses.
The bill was expected to pass easily through both the House and Senate during last year's session, but Speaker Ron Richard unexpectedly derailed the House version last April after the Senate's quick passage. Richard's also been criticized by Rep. Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County, after failing to make the autism bill the first piece of legislation to be debated.
When the bill was blocked last April, Richard's office told Missouri Digital News that Richard blocked the autism bills in favor of other health measures because the bills lacked support.
Gov. Jay Nixon has endoresed a mandate for autism insurance coverage.