Iowa Senate bill would expand state's autism insurance mandate

Requirement would only apply to businesses with more than 50 employees

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Coverage of autism services would be required in insurance plans offered by some large businesses under legislation that advanced Wednesday in the Iowa Senate.

The legislation would add required behavioral analysis coverage for autistic Iowans who are not already covered by Medicaid or the state employees’ health care plan, which covers autism services.

Maria Valdovinos, a certified behavioral analyst from Des Moines who teaches at Drake University, testified Wednesday at a subcommittee hearing at the Capitol that for autism patients, access to behavioral analysis services is “necessary and so important.”

Roughly 3,000 Iowans receive autism services through the state health insurance plan, a Department of Human Services official said at Wednesday’s hearing.

A Human Services spokeswoman did not immediately know how many Iowans receive autism services through Medicaid, and a federal official deferred to the state.

Some Iowa children may receive autism services through a state-funded plan operated by Magellan, but only 11 are being served, a state official said.

The bill would attempt to fill any gaps left by those programs, although neither legislators nor lobbyists knew how many people the legislation would affect.

The mandate would apply to businesses with more than 50 employees.


Lobbyists for business and insurance groups that oppose the bill suggested it would not apply to large businesses that fund their own health insurance plans and are regulated by the federal government. But Iowa Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, said he was not sure that is accurate and is seeking clarification.

A representative of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry said the legislation would require coverage for a small number of people but would be paid for by all employees.

Paula Dierenfeld, with the Iowa Federation of Insurers, said the organization has resisted including behavioral analysis coverage “because it’s not a proven therapy.”

Valdovinos and Threase Harms, a lobbyist speaking on behalf of the Epilepsy Foundation and Easter Seals Iowa, disagreed.

“We have seen when coverage is provided that it does improve the quality of life of folks living with autism,” Harms said.

Senate Democrats advanced the bill, which will be heard by the Senate Commerce Committee. A duplicate bill has been introduced in the House but has not yet received a hearing there.



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