Autism coverage bill clears House
Politics • Pilot project would cover hundreds of young children.
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A bill that would qualify hundreds of young children with autism for Medicaid coverage during a two-year pilot program passed easily through the House Wednesday on its way to the Senate.

Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, said if HB272 is enacted, the state will take "a step forward" in assisting young children in need.

"We are investing some money up front for young children with the hope they will be successful … and not become a burden on the state in their later years," Menlove said.

The measure passed 67-3, despite concerns the pilot program could evolve into a permanent program at great cost to the state.

It is estimated the program — which is aimed at Medicaid-qualified families with children between the ages of 2-6 and some that have private insurance — would cost about $6 million.

Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, was one of three lawmakers to vote against the bill and he used a personal anecdote about his child who had a speech disorder to illustrate how families should find a way rather than lean on government-funded programs.

He said his family shopped around for more affordable treatments and learned techniques at home to work with his child to help overcome the disorder.

"We save the health care system $29,000 by doing it that way," Herrod said. "Had it been covered, I would've taken it. Simply assuming the government will take care of it — it ends up not working."

But Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said Medicaid is a "safety net" and that these kinds of programs are doing what they're intended to do — help those in need.

And Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said it was better to make an investment in treating autistic children now.

"We can pay pennies now or dollars later," Ivory said. "We know these children are going to be in our classrooms. To the extent that we are able to spend pennies now ... I'm encouraged to see how this plays out."

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero