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Va. Assembly rejects McDonnell autism amendment

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

RICHMOND — Virginia legislators rejected the most controversial change to a bill requiring insurance companies to cover treatment for autism, one of several amendments proposed by Governor Robert F. McDonnell.

The bill requires health insurers to pay for therapy for children ages 2 to 6, cap annual costs at $35,000, and apply to businesses that employ more than 50 people as well as public employees.

Mr. McDonnell wanted to amend the bill so it would be nullified if the $35,000 cap was ever overturned by a court, citing concern for undue burdens on insurance companies. Lawmakers rejected that amendment 71 to 28 in the House and 39 to 1 in the Senate Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Delegate Tag Greason, Loudoun Republican, urged lawmakers to reject the amendment, saying 11 years of work would "go up in smoke" in one court ruling.

"Why would we as a body give that much power to a single individual who one morning woke up and said 'I'm going to decide this is unenforceable,'" Mr. Greason said.

With the new mandate, Virginia becomes one of at least 24 states that mandate insurance coverage for autism.

Mr. McDonnell's other amendments, approved by lawmakers, are intended to reduce the cost to businesses. They push back the start date, require Board of Medicine approval for some treatment providers and tighten eligibility for some smaller employer groups.

Lawmakers are meeting in Richmond this week for a special session to consider Mr. McDonnell's vetos and amendments and to approve new House and Senate districts.

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