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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers are pushing bills that would require insurance companies to offer coverage for autism screening, diagnosis and treatment on health plans sold in the state.
Senate Bill 2581 passed the Senate on a split vote Tuesday, with 39 senators voting for the bill and six voting against it.
Sen. Will Longwitz, R-Madison, said autism treatment can cost thousands of dollars a month, and many families can't afford services their children need. He said 38 states already require insurance companies to cover treatment for autism spectrum disorder, a group of developmental disorders that affect communication, behavior and social interaction.
Opponents said Mississippi should not require insurance companies to cover specific services. They said if the free market creates a demand, companies will make their own decisions to offer autism coverage without a government mandate.
"What we are witnessing today is another extension of state authority," said Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville. "Where does it end? This should concern people that value liberty ... that value contractual rights. We are telling a private insurance company what it must sell, what it must do."
Longwitz responded: "If we're going to have an ideological battle, let's not do it at the expense of children with autism."
A similar proposal, House Bill 885, passed the House 119-0 on Jan. 29.
The House and Senate must agree on a single bill before anything can go to the governor.
Those voting against the Senate bill Tuesday were Republican Sens. Eugene "Buck" Clarke of Hollandale, Angela Hill of Picayune, McDaniel, Tony Smith of Poplarville, Melanie Sojourner of Natchez and Michael Watson of Pascagoula.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 1 in every 68 children has been identified as having autism spectrum disorder, and boys are five times more likely than girls to have it. Intervention at an early age can help a child with autism learn to walk, talk and interact with other people, the CDC says.
Senate Bill 2581: http://bit.ly/1Cf8p52
House Bill 885: http://bit.ly/1Cf8lT1
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