ATLANTA-- She is the Capitol's nine year old poster child for autism. And although the General Assembly honored Ava Bullard for her family's dogged pursuit of a bill that would require health insurance coverage of autism, the honors stopped far short of actual passage of the bill known as Ava's law.
"Will it make the committees call a vote? I don't know. 'Cause last year it didn't," said Ava's mother, Anna Bullard of Lyons. "But I hope that it will. I really hope that it will because families are so desperate."
Last year the bill stalled when lawmakers sent it to a newly formed entity called a mandate commission. The mandate commission studied it for months, then voted against recommending it.
Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), a backer of Ava's law, says Republicans in the legislature are afraid to let the bill come to a full vote. "I think that with certain issues in this place, you have ideology first and facts second," said Carter, who is running for Governor. "And those facts can be that this can help kids change their lives." Georgia is one of 16 states that doesn't require health insurance coverage for autism.
Bullard says if the bill passes, she expects Gov. Nathan Deal to sign it. The Governor's office won't comment on pending legislation. But last month, the Deal ordered autism coverage on the insurance plans of state employees.
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Backers say autism coverage would add mere pennies to health care coverage costs. Sen. Tim Golden (R-Valdosta) chairs the Senate committee that has declined to advance the bill for a vote.
"I'm a fairly new chairman of the insurance committee and so I'm really digging into the issue," Golden said. "And as I dig in, I keep finding stuff." Golden added that "I really want to do right by the children in Georgia who are affected by autism," noting that it affects one in 88 children.
Golden says he is moved by the story of Ava Bullard, whose early autism treatment restored her speech and helped her thrive in a mainstream public school. But the insurance industry opposes Ava's law. The forces against it are powerful, and even its backers are reluctant to predict it can pass this year's session of the General Assembly.