News Article Details

Amber Ryan: Bill to allow out-of-state insurance would destroy autism mandates, other state requirements

Tulsa World - 4/1/2017

As we are struggling to maintain health-care coverage in our federal government, we are also in danger of losing meaningful health-care coverage in our state government.

Senate Bill 478 is being touted as a "more affordable and flexible" way to get insurance to Oklahomans by authorizing out-of-state insurance companies to do business in Oklahoma.

The dangerous portion of this bill is section 3D, which says, "The out-of-state insurers shall not be required to offer or provide state-mandated health benefits required by Oklahoma law or regulations in health insurance policies sold to Oklahoma residents." The next section allows in-state insurers to sell policies that are substantially comparable to the out-of-state insurance policies, obviously, also sidestepping the Oklahoma mandates.

These are health benefits that are state-regulated and which were passed into law by bipartisan legislative majorities, at the request of the citizens of Oklahoma. We have 38 of these benefits in Oklahoma, including cancer screenings and treatment, diabetic self care and supplies, mental health care and parity, chiropractic care, and the most recent mandate, autism therapy.

Just last year, hundreds of Oklahoma families worked together with Autism Speaks to get autism therapy coverage mandated in Oklahoma. The bill had over 30 bipartisan co-authors.

Our son, Charlie, is almost 8 years old and severely autistic. Our public school system does not have the funds or resources to help children like Charlie. Charlie attends therapy to teach him life skills and coping mechanisms. It is imperative for him and children like him to receive the therapy outlined in the mandates.

SB 478 will give insurance companies the choice to provide the required coverage and employers the choice to provide a policy to their employees that won't cover their medical needs.

Sen. Ben Brown and Rep. Lewis Moore, the authors of this bill, have spent their lives in the insurance industry and are very familiar with the consequences it will have. During debate, Rep. Matt Meredith asked Moore what the bill would do to the autism mandate passed last year. Moore told Meredith that "the autism bill passed in 2016 would not be repealed, but services could be eliminated from insurance coverage options."

The high cost of premiums for Affordable Care Act plans in Oklahoma is not due to the mandates, but rather the health of Oklahomans. We are, as a whole, a very unhealthy state with lots of sick citizens.

If our mandated health benefits are not covered, won't these same Oklahomans get sicker and end up costing more? Any attempt to remove state regulated benefits can and will damage the health of Oklahomans. There is nothing in this bill to help Oklahomans. Instead it will have devastating consequences, especially to our most vulnerable.

This is not a bill to help us, the consumers, but rather for the insurance industry.

Please contact your senators and representatives to voice your opposition to SB 478. It is wrong to overrule the necessary health benefits that so many Oklahomans fought very long and hard to have put into effect.

Amber Ryan is a Tulsa advocate for autism issues.


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