2 proposed bills would offer resources to Utahns with autism spectrum disorders

Posted at 9:57 PM, Feb 26, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah State Senate gave a different reception to two bills aimed at helping parents of children diagnosed with autism.

Jake and Melyssa Smith are counting on one of the bills for their son's continuing treatment and for their family's financial health.

The Smith's lost nearly everything to pay for treatment for their son, Cohen, before they got help from a Medicaid program one year ago. Their younger son, Max, has Aspergers and also requires therapy.

"We claimed bankruptcy,” Melyssa Smith said. “We lost our home last year, so that we could provide for school for Cohen and for therapy. We were at the end of our rope. We had nothing left.”

House Bill 88, sponsored by Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-District 1, passed a second reading in the Senate with ease. Menlove's bill would extend the pilot program created two years ago. It funds therapy for the Smiths and about 300 families of children with autism. It also continues a state policy of funding autism treatment in insurance for state employees.

Menlove said the program has worked well enough to warrant the extension.

"This body passed that bill two years ago,” Menlove said. “They now can see the benefits of their investments, and so we're making that case very strongly.”

Senate Bill 57 is more ambitious, making it mandatory for private insurers to cover autism treatment.

Insurance companies have fought the measure, saying it would increase rates for everyone only to provide treatments that are not always effective.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-District 8, said that's not true. He said autism coverage is required in 34 states already.

"What we've seen is no significant change by any insurance commissioner in any of the 34 states," Shiozawa said.

SB 57 didn't make it to a vote on Wednesday, because they ran out of time for debate, but it's likely to be heard in a Thursday vote. Shiozawa expects to get through the Senate, but he's uncertain about the House.

Shiozawa used a common phrase for lawmakers trying to do something difficult: "This bill is heavy lifting."