Sunday, February 8, 2009

Support Insurance for Autism? Lessons from Oklahoma


I am disgusted by what's been going on in the Oklahoma "debate" over insurance coverage for autism services. The proposal was defeated last week, and it's a classic example of partisan politics and special interests overpowering the real needs of real constituents. If you think your state and other states should support insurance coverage for autism, pay attention to what's happened in Oklahoma, get mad about it, and fight even harder in your own state to avoid this kind of result. Sign up for email updates at autismvotes.org to get information about what's happening in your state, and what you can do to help.

As background, and this is not a criticism, Oklahoma is as Republican as a state can be. In the November presidential election, 65 percent of Oklahomans voted for McCain-Palin -- the largest Republican margin in the country. Looking closer at those results, you won't find a spec of blue in the state -- not a single county went Democratic. With that huge victory, Republicans assumed even greater control of the legislature and immediately made procedural changes that ensured they would not have any debate about any issue they didn't want to discuss. They also declared that if an issue (like autism insurance) was defeated, no one could propose it again for two years. Can you imagine the backlash there would be if either party tried to run the U.S. Congress this way? Do the terms "democracy" and "representation" mean nothing in today's Oklahoma?

Something else you should know about Oklahoma: Its daily newspaper has been named one of the worst (and most partisan) papers in the country. Take a look at what they paper's official editorial had to say today:
"Group health care premiums in Oklahoma would likely get a lot bigger if the state adds an autism treatment mandate. Lawmakers last week rejected the mandate, but the fight isn’t over. Mandate supporter Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, taunted opponents by saying, 'Who’s running this, the insurance companies or you legislators?' He should worry instead about running off insurance companies and running up the uninsured numbers."

Rep. Brown's question -- far from "taunting" -- is what every Oklahoma family affected by this issue should be asking. And it's preposterous to say that Rep. Brown, the families who testified, and others who care about this issue shouldn't worry about this topic. Because what they're worried about is children with autism and the parents who care for them. (Read the posted comments after the editorial to see the emotional reaction of many families.)

The Oklahoma proposal, "Nick's Law," was named for the son of Wayne Rohde, who has put up an admirable fight under extremely difficult services. Some opponents of the legislation have openly suggested that people who don't like the law should move to another state. But I hope Wayne and other family advocates will keep fighting -- and make things very uncomfortable for elected officials who put special interests ahead of the needs of some of their most vulnerable constituents. Read more about Nick's Law and what may come next at http://nickslawok.blogspot.com.
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