Much has been made recently of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle and her stated opposition to a bill (AB 162) in the 2009 Legislature which would have mandated that private insurance companies include autism benefits on every insurance policy they issue.
As one of only two legislators who voted against that bill, I think Nevada’s citizens deserve to know why.
But first, I invite anyone who suggests my reason was because I don’t give a damn about children suffering with autism or that I don’t believe autism is a real disease, to come out to my farm in Amargosa Valley and say it to my face. And don’t worry; the shotgun, guard dogs and pre-dug shallow grave out in the pasture aren’t for you.
Now, as a matter of principle I don’t believe the government should be “mandating” what services a private sector industry provides to its customers. Forcing insurance companies to include autism coverage on every insurance policy, regardless of whether the customer wants that coverage or not, is like forcing grocery stores to include a free rib roast in every shopping cart, even for vegetarians.
Sure, poor folks who otherwise couldn’t afford a rib roast will be thrilled to get a free one every time they go to the store; however, those roasts wouldn’t really be “free.” Grocery stores would be forced to raise prices on every other product in the store to offset the cost of the “free” rib roasts.
And that’s exactly what happens when the government forces private insurance companies to include unfunded autism coverage and other benefits on every insurance policy they sell whether the consumer wants it or not; it results in higher monthly insurance premiums for everybody.
Well, according to a recent story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal “the mandate will add 2.2 percent, or about $100 a year, to Nevadans’ annual premiums.” That is considered a “very significant impact” according to J.P. Wieske, executive director of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, since “most new mandates add less than 1 percent to premium costs.”
So in this case, the Legislature was “helping” parents of children with autism by forcing somebody else to pay for it and pricing some Nevadans out of health insurance altogether. It’s like putting a gun to a lobbyist’s head and forcing him to give $100 every month to the homeless guy with the “Will Work for Food” sign outside the capital building.
No, the debate we should have had last session was whether or not Nevada’s government has a legitimate role and moral responsibility to provide autism assistance to Nevada’s children who truly suffer from the disease, acknowledging legitimate concerns about autism being mis-diagnosed or over-diagnosed in some cases. Personally, I believe such an argument can be made, with the devil always being in the legislative details.
But if that’s the case, then all of us in Nevada, through our taxes, should pitch in to subsidize autism benefits for those who need it, not slough off our responsibility and clapping ourselves on the back for “doing something” for children by forcing a private industry to pay for it.
All of that said, there was a second reason I voted against this bill.
What’s often overlooked about the impact of AB 162 is that its cost is so high the Legislature EXEMPTED our Medicaid program from the mandate, maintaining that the state couldn’t afford it “after officials found it would cost the program $30 million over two years for coverage of autism.”
Think about that: The Legislature passed a bill that said private insurance companies had to provide autism coverage on every policy regardless of cost, but if you’re so poor that you qualify for Medicaid, well, you’re out of luck. Explain to me how that’s right?
Let me close by pointing out another example of monumental hypocrisy by many of my colleagues in the Assembly who are taking bows over having “done something” by voting for AB 162 in the ’09 legislative session.
Clearly, children suffering from autism have educational challenges very different from other children. As such, many parents would love to be able to afford to send their autistic child to a private school that specializes in educating children with autism and other learning disabilities.
And yet when given the chance in the 2007 legislative session to vote for a bill introduced by Sen. Barbara Cegavske to subsidize the cost of helping these children by giving parents a voucher in the amount of that which the government is already spending to send these kids to a regular public school, Democrats in the Assembly refused to even hold a hearing on the bill, let alone a vote.
It’s easy to demagogue an issue as emotional as autism; however, passing the buck and denying parents the financial means to obtain a better education for their autistic child doesn’t exactly take a lot of courage. All it really takes is a lot of chutzpah.
(Assemblyman Goedhart represents Assembly District 36, a rural district generally covering southern and middle Nevada.)