Marsh: Senate will vote next week on autism therapy bill
Posted May 11
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate will vote next week on a mandate for insurers to cover an intensive autism therapy, the Republican Senate leader promised Thursday as he attempted to ease tensions that threatened to derail the final days of the legislative session.
"We will have all day Wednesday to have debate on that bill," Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said. "Our intent is to get an autism bill to the governor," Marsh, R-Anniston, said.
The bill would require some insurers to cover applied behavioral analysis, or ABA therapy. The intensive therapy can cost $100-per-hour, out of financial reach for many families. Business and insurance groups have voiced opposition to the proposed mandate, citing cost concerns.
Hostilities erupted among senators on Wednesday shortly after the Senate budget committee approved the bill, 14-2. Committee Chairman Sen. Trip Pittman — who says he's worried about costs to Medicaid and other state insurance programs — said afterward that he might hold the bill in committee by not reporting it to the floor in order to negotiate for changes. As chairman, Pittman must sign the committee report to get the bill in position for a Senate vote. The maneuver angered some senators who quickly vowed to shut down the chamber.
"If all the committees aren't reported, watch for squalls," Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, said.
Pittman signed the bill out of committee Thursday, after being requested to do so by Marsh, but said he will continue negotiations.
"At the end of the day we have to be able to pay for the cost of this, and there are a lot of unknown costs," Pittman, R-Montrose, said.
Pittman said he had not threatened to hold the bill indefinitely. "I said at this point I was not doing it. I didn't deceive you. I told you exactly what I was going to do. That's one thing with me, you'll get the truth even if you don't like it."
Marsh said the Senate will try to wrap up work on the budgets on Tuesday as part of the agreement. Marsh said he asked the sides to continue negotiating.
"Some people don't like to admit he's a reasonable person," Marsh said of Pittman.
Brewbaker credited pressure from parents and advocates for the movement.
"Sometimes it's good to be in an election cycle. This is one of those times," Brewbaker said, without elaborating. Marsh is considering a run for U.S. Senate.
Parents of children on the autism spectrum applauded after the committee approved the bill Wednesday but said they fear it could die in the remaining few days in the session.
"We want a vote on the bill. We've waited long enough," said Rachel Robinson of Fairhope. Robinson drives to Florida each week so her 6-year-old son can attend ABA therapy. She said she credits "98 percent" of her son's progress to ABA.
"It means he can go to a typical kindergarten class. He can make friends. He can interact with children and adults," she said.