OKLAHOMA CITY – The first Senate bill filed for the upcoming legislative session is “Nick’s Law.” Senator Jay Paul Gumm is the principal author of Senate Bill 1, which would require insurance companies to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism in children.
Gumm, a Democrat from Durant, first filed the bill in 2008. The measure won bipartisan support in the Senate, but it was stopped by a small group of Republican leaders in the House of Representatives. Gumm said then he would renew his fight for the bill, which he says is critical for children all over Oklahoma.
“Children with autism who do not receive therapy can be virtually cut off from the world for the rest of their lives,” he said. “The real tragedy is we know for a fact therapy can save them from that fate – unfortunately, thousands of Oklahoma children are denied treatment by insurance companies. This is a health issue and it is a moral issue.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every 150 American children will be diagnosed with autism, a bio-neurological condition that appears in early childhood and impacts the ability to communicate and interact with others. While medical science has yet to determine the exact cause or cure, treatment has been proven to significantly improve outcomes.
Republicans and Democrats across the country have joined hands to enact autism insurance legislation like “Nick’s Law.” In July, Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal – one of the GOP’s “rising stars” – signed autism legislation that was sponsored by a Republican state representative from Baton Rouge.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, another high-profile Republican governor, signed that state’s autism bill in June – a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.
Also, in Pennsylvania, Republican House Speaker Dennis O’Brien championed a measure – which passed the House unanimously and a Republican-controlled state Senate 49-1 – that will allow parents of autistic children to pay for behavioral therapy and related services with private health insurance.
“In state-after-state, bills requiring insurance to cover autism diagnosis and treatment are crossing the partisan divide,” Gumm said. “Several Republicans state representatives are already on record saying they will support the bill. Now, it is time for their leadership to join GOP lawmakers and governors across the nation and do the right thing for these families.”
Gumm’s legislation is named for 11-year-old Nick Rohde of Edmond, who suffers from autism. His father, Wayne Rohde, and other parents of autistic children spent, countless hours at the Capitol last year winning support for the bill. Earlier this fall, “Nick’s Law” was named the top 2009 legislative priority for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.
“House Republican leaders have an amazing opportunity to become heroes by passing this bill, and no one will sing their praises louder than I will,” Gumm said. “All they have to do is live up to their ‘family values’ rhetoric and put the lives of these children ahead of insurance company profits.
“For just about every other Oklahoman, this is an easy choice.”