Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama is a pretty interesting “non-profit.” It controls 84% of the Alabama insurance market, pays its top ten executives at least $1 million each year, and persuaded Alabama legislators in 2015 to pass a law hiding executive salaries from public scrutiny. It’s a behemoth that’s used to having its way in the Alabama legislature.
This session, BCBS of Alabama and the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) are allies in a fight against a group of unlikely opponents: autistic children and their families. The two groups are battling over HB284, a bill that would require insurance companies to cover autism therapies with no age cap.
According to Rep. Jim Patterson’s bill:
Under existing law, a health benefit plan is required to offer coverage for the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder for a child age nine or under for certain defined group insurance plans and contracts.
This bill would require health benefit plans to cover the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder for all insureds under certain insurance plans and contracts.
This bill would also require the Department of Insurance to file an annual report with the Legislature on the costs of providing treatment for 20 Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Now, doesn’t this bill sound like common sense? Does anyone really think a magic bell rings on a child’s 10th birthday and he/she steps off the autism spectrum and into the mainstream? Of course not, but treatment costs money and BCBS has a cushy thing going in Alabama.
Amazingly, the Alabama House stood up for children and against both BCBS and BCA and voted unanimously to approve it. Forty-five other states already require it; this isn’t a radical departure from insurance norms.
The House committee public hearing, however, was testy:
Business Council of Alabama President Billy Canary, testified against the bill, and said he had worked on the Governor’s Working Group on Children with Autism last year that crafted SB57 in hopes of avoiding “pitting one group against the other.”
After the meeting, Patterson and Canary had a heated exchange.
Canary asked why Patterson filed the bill without approaching him, and Patterson pointed out that it’s usually the lobbyists who approach lawmakers, not the other way around.
Canary accused Patterson of having his own agenda to force a healthcare tax on people, to which Patterson replied, “Don’t call it a tax. I resent that.”
Canary said, “It is a tax. That’s the truth.”
Patterson said, “I’m willing to work with you, but don’t insult me by calling it a tax. That’s just a way to play politics. Billy, you’re better than that.”
The men agreed to meet. “We’ve got to do something,” Patterson said, adding he is hearing from parents in his district “crying and begging for help, and I’m going to represent the people in my district because that’s what I’m down here for.”
Note that BCBS and BCA are pushing a competing bill in the Senate – SB57 – which calls for coverage of behavioral therapy only up to age nine, raids the Alabama Education Trust fund to pay for it, and administers the program through the Department of Mental Health.
Opponents of SB57 argued the financial burden doesn’t belong in the education trust fund, nor should it be administered under a government agency.
Give BCBS credit for sheer gall in its assumption that it can get the legislature to raid education funds to cover medical care that the companycovers routinely in other states.
There’s little chance of SB57 passing however, so BCBS (who opposes the bill on financial grounds) and BCA (who opposes it on “principle,” ha ha) have decided that the best course is to kill HB284 in the Senate. And the easiest way to kill anything in the Alabama legislature is to intimate that former-President Obama might think it’s a good idea.
Their desperation perhaps accounts for this misleading and underhanded ad campaign currently popping up all over my Facebook feed. Some shadowy group called “Stop Government Mandates” is targeting HB284.
The group registered its domain name on May 2, 2017 and, so far consists of a hysterical Web site that predicts death, devastation, and disaster (ie lower profits) if BCBS is “forced” to provide autism treatment. Looks like there’s a specific page for every Senator. For example: Steve Livingston’s page, Tripp Pittman’s page, and Arthur Orr’s page.
Holy cow campers! Look at what might happen!!
- Increases health insurance costs for businesses by more than $100M.
- Expands Obamacare through big-government mandates.
- Hurts families by forcing their employers to cut healthcare benefit plans.
- Burdens governments with unnecessary operating expenses.
Look closely at that last one and remember that BCBS and BCA prefer a bill that “burdens” the education budget with therapy that BCBS should provide.
Not to mention that the costs cited by BCBA are pure BS, and claims data from other states prove it:
Forty-five states already provide insurance coverage for autism therapy. Advocates have cited numbers from actual claims data as evidence that costs could be as little as 32 cents per member per month to as high as one dollar per member per month, much lower than costs cited by insurance giant Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.
BCBS lobbyist Robin Stone, who must surely have trouble sleeping at night, predicted that the treatment could cost “millions of dollars!” Let’s think about it for a bit. This is a company that is so embarrassed by the hyper-inflated salaries of its top executives that it pushed the legislature to keep them secret.
BCBS wants us to keep our priorities straight: additional care for autistic children and teens might mean lower executive pay raises.
The Alabama Senate needs to hear from you today, tomorrow, and every single day until it passes this bill. Here’s how to contact your legislator.