ATLANTA -- Two key lawmakers said Monday that the bill requiring insurance coverage for autism would likely get shelved this legislative session. And according to Autism Speaks, the bill may not be taken up again until 2015.
Publicly, the autism insurance bill had the enthusiastic backing of supporters from around Georgia, who rallied at the Capitol Monday to lobby for its passage. But as they swarmed the Capitol, the measure was getting treatment likely to kill it for the year.
"There are powers that be that don't want to see it moving," said Rep. Ben Harbin (R-Evans), sponsor of the bill known as Ava's Law.
"As far as for this session, it won't happen," said Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus), chairman of the House insurance committee. Smith all but sealed the bill's fate fate by assigning the bill to a study committee.
Smith says his hands were tied by a law passed in 2011. It requires that any bill with a new insurance mandate go to a committee called a mandate committee.
The law says the mandate committee has twenty members. Most of its members come from the private sector. Only four of the twenty members' names have been made public.
Gov. Deal will appoint 16 of the 20 members. Half of them will have ties to the medical profession. But Deal's office has not announced the names of any of the appointees.
The mandate committee is due to meet March 12. Lawmakers say that will be one week after day 29 of the 40 day session of the General Assembly. Day 30 is "crossover day," when the House is supposed to start taking up legislation that has already passed the Senate and vice versa.
Smith says the autism bill will be assigned to the mandate committee, as will bills requiring coverage for hearing aids and food allergies. It will have six months to study the bill, a period that will extend well beyond the adjournment date of this year's session.
"The downside if this is delayed a year, that's another year of therapy that these children aren't getting," said Harbin. "There's a tremendous impact on their quality of life down the road."
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) was among four legislators named to the mandate committee. She says the bill will re-emerge next year, fully vetted. "There's a reason why it takes years" for some legislation to pass, Unterman said. "Because it's costly (to the insured). And you're doing it to nine million people that have private insurance plans." Backers of the bill say it would add 32 cents per person per month to insurance policies.
Backers of the autism bill expect to try to sidestep the mandate committee by forcing a vote on the measure in the House insurance committee sometime this week.