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Autism bill clears Senate, headed back to House

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation expanding benefits under the state's 2011 law mandating insurance coverage for autism is one minor step away from going to the governor, after the Senate unanimously approved the bill Friday.

The bill (HB4260) clarifies that a $30,000 a year cap on coverage for the first three years of autism treatments applies to applied behavioral analysis (ABA), a specific neurological treatment for children with autism spectrum disorders.

Advocates of the 2011 law believed that was the intent of the legislation passed last year. However, insurance providers, including the state Public Employees Insurance Agency, interpreted the $30,000 cap to be for services provided, including speech and physical therapy, as well as ABA.

The House will have to concur on a Senate technical amendment today to send it to the governor.

"We've saved our West Virginia children with autism, despite a massive push-back from the insurance industry, including our own PEIA," Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha, said Friday of the imminent passage of the bill.

Hunt, who has a son with autism, gave an impassioned floor speech in support of the legislation earlier in the session.

Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said the changes are substantive. The change will increase PEIA coverage costs by more than $3 million a year, and will increase benefit costs for the Children's Health Insurance Program by a similar amount, according to budget estimates.

The bill was one of several passed or advanced by the Senate on the 59th day of the 60-day regular session. The Senate also:

n Passed 33-0 and returned to the House a bill originally intended to require contractors on state-funded construction projects to use all U.S.-made building materials and supplies (HB4263). Instead, as it left the Senate Friday, the bill would set up a task force that is to spend the next year studying the proposed "West Virginia Buy American Act."

• Passed 33-0 and returned to the House a bill to create an Office of Minority Affairs within the governor's office to promote issues and programs affecting minorities in the state (HB4015). The Senate included a stipulation that the office is to be staffed by an executive director and one administrative assistant only.

• Passed and sent to the governor legislation raising supplemental pay for State Police troopers who work beyond their standard work schedule from the current maximum of $236 a month to a maximum of $400 a month (HB4281). Total cost of the additional pay is projected at $172,000 a year.

• Passed 33-0 and returned to the House a bill to create a Shale Research, Education, Policy and Economic Development Center at West Virginia University (HB4511) to address the expansion of Marcellus Shale horizontal natural gas drilling in the state.

• Advanced to passage stage today a bill to require insurance companies to disclose how much coverage their insurees carry (HB4486).

However, as amended by the Senate, the disclosure applies only to auto insurance coverage, and the claimant's attorney would have to cite the date and location of the incident resulting in the pending insurance claim or potential lawsuit.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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