Feb. 25--HOUSE moves bill to help veterans. Page 13-A.
CHARLESTON -- The House of Delegates passed a fix to last year's autism insurance coverage bill and a bill to preserve religious freedom.
Changes just before passage of last year's autism coverage bill led to some mistakes. An interim committee corrected them, and those corrections worked through the House via HB 4260.
The major change clarifies what the coverage cap applies to as mandatory coverage takes effect in July. The bill was written so that it appeared the $30,000 annual cap for the first three years of treatment applied to all medical treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder. And that's how some insurance companies were interpreting it, legislators said.
But the intent, said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, DMonongalia, was to apply the cap only to applied behavior analysis -- intensive one-on-one daily therapy used to treat children with autism, and considered by experts the only effective treatment.
HB 4260 contains one problematic element amended by the Senate, Fleischauer said. The coverage -- by PEIA, CHIP and private insurers -- applies only if the child is diagnosed by age 8.
While it's best to obtain a diagnosis between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, legislators have also heard anecdotal evidence of some families who don't receive it until after the child is 8.
"It would be really sad to deprive that child of the education he or she needs," Fleischauer said. The clause won't affect many people, and isn't a deal breaker, but she and other supporters hope the Senate will remove it. They didn't because they didn't want to jeopardize Senate agreement. The bill goes to the Senate.
Religious freedom bill
HB 2657 is the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act. House Judiciary Committee chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, explained that it bars the state from burdening a person's free exercise of religion unless the government proves a compelling state interest to do so. If that is proven, the government must use the least restrictive means to carry out its interest.
Miley said the bill doesn't affect compulsory immunizations of children, as West Virginia is one of two states lacking a religious exemption for immunizations.
Background information for a similar bill explains that in 1990, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling reduced protections for people opposing laws for religious reasons. The court said a state law must be merely reasonable to override religious objections. In 1997, the court then struck down a congressional Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so states are adopting their own to restore the concept of compelling state interest.
Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, supported the bill, saying that the pioneers of his adopted faith -- Mormonism -- were persecuted and driven west because of religious intolerance. "Please get the government off my freedom."
It passed 92-2, with Delegates John Doyle, D-Jefferson, and Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, voting against. It goes to the Senate.
The House also passed, 95-0, HB 4049, which requires the Department of Environmental Protection to create and maintain an Office of Internal Auditing. It also goes to the Senate.
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