Autism, crossover voting among items addressed in session

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 6/6/17

Members of the Walker County legislative delegation recently noted a number of items passed in the 2017 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature, including autism insurance for children, improved tuition assistance for Alabama Guardsmen, a ban on crossover voting in party primaries and medical contracts to pay physicians without insurance.

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Autism, crossover voting among items addressed in session

Posted

Members of the Walker County legislative delegation recently noted a number of items passed in the 2017 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature, including autism insurance for children, improved tuition assistance for Alabama Guardsmen, a ban on crossover voting in party primaries and medical contracts to pay physicians without insurance.

The autism bill “was the most emotional piece of legislation in the session,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper said. Under the new act, autism therapy will now be covered under private insurance plans with 50 or more employees, as federal insurance guidelines already cover smaller companies.

“You had a lot of push and pull related to that issue, on trying to understand what the cost was going to be for government or for private business,” he said. At the same time, legislators recognized the need for that therapy.

“I was very involved trying to work with all the different players in the Senate and coming up with an opportunity that would allow that to move forward,” Reed said, calling it “an important piece of legislation.” 

State Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, called it one of the best bills of the session, adding that he has a family member who is autistic.

“I think insurance companies should be required to pay for the therapy in children who are young,” noting the bill requires payment until age 16. “I think that is a wonderful benefit.” 

State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, who voted for the bill, said, “I hope it is everything that we think it is. The bill you begin with in Montgomery is very rarely the bill you end with in Montgomery. During that process, you lose some things and you have other things added on. Do I think it is a good bill? Yes. I don’t know it is as good a bill as I would have liked it to have been.” 

Wadsworth said amendments to the Alabama Accountability Act were defeated, which he counted as a major event. He said only seven scholarships have been issued to Walker County under the act, and it has cost the county more than $1 million.

“There was an attempt to add more money to the scholarship fund, which would not have benefited Winston County and it would not have benefited Walker County,” he said.

Wadsworth also said the Alabama National Guard Education Assistance Program (ANGEAP) was changed, as Guardsmen had received up to $2,000 a year in tuition assistance at college. Legislators this year changed that to $4,800 a year, which will be available at higher education institutions in Alabama. Wadsworth said the tuition can be used at a two-year institution.

He said three right-to-life bills passed, including a ban on assisted suicide, a protection of healthcare workers’ rights of conscience and a constitutional amendment to declare Alabama is a pro-life state, which would be instrumental if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Wadsworth noted legislation passed based on a situation in Oklahoma that allows doctors to enter into medical contracts with patients for a fixed dollar amount based on cash — essentially allowing an agreement for medical treatment that prevents having to rely on insurance.

“It gives people another option to obtain medical treatment,” he said. The doctors set their own price and don’t have to worry about reimbursements, and the cost of medical treatment is kept down.

A summary listing of the session’s bills, released by the Senate Majority Leader’s Office, notes that under Direct Primary Care (DPC) agreements, purchases for services from physicians and dentists could be made through monthly frees or other methods without relying on insurance companies or state insurance regulations. The cost of overhead is reduced.

“DPC agreements will make it easier for doctors and dentists to open practices in rural Alabama,” the summary said. “Currently, medical/dental practices need a high number of patients to offset costs from insurance documentation requirements.” 

Reed also pointed to a passage of the Alabama Jobs Act pushed by the Governor’s Office, which continued incentive packages to attract industry. Some of those incentives helped to attract the Yorozu plant in Walker County, he said.

Reed said the new primary runoff act affects both Democrats and Republicans.

Those who vote in one party’s primary will no longer be allowed to switch to the other party in any runoff, as they must vote in the runoff with the same party as they did in the primary. Anyone who didn’t vote in the original primary can vote in whichever runoff they choose.

“If you say, ‘I’m going to vote Republican in the primary,’ then you’ve got to vote Republican in the runoff,” Reed said, saying the same held true for Democrats. “It just allows there to not be a circumstance where the other party loads up on a particular runoff candidate to try help pick the candidate for the other party.” 

One can vote for whoever they like, regardless of parties, in the general election.

Reed said his district received only minor changes in court-ordered reapportionment of legislative districts in the state.

Rowe and Wadsworth said their districts did not have any changes. Reed said he lost a section of about 400 to 500 people in Jefferson County and picked up as many people in the same county.