MONTGOMERY — A group of lawmakers who fought for expanded insurance coverage for children with autism said they weren’t invited to the Business Council of Alabama’s summer conference at Point Clear next month.
The BCA was an opponent of the autism coverage legislation that was approved overwhelmingly by lawmakers, calling it an Obama-style mandate on employers that would increase premiums.
Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville, sponsored the bill in the House. He said this is the first time he hasn’t been invited to the BCA’s summer conference since he was elected in 2010.
“It looks like I’m in pretty good company,” Patterson said today. He also said he’s always had a good relationship with the BCA.
“I have a very good voting record when it comes to business,” he said. But on the autism issue, he said he listened to people in his area.
“I’m more concerned about pleasing my district than I am any group in Montgomery,” he said.
The legislation, which goes into effect later this year, requires insurance plans at businesses with at least 51 employees to cover autism treatment, including applied behavioral analysis therapy, which focuses on improving speech, behavioral and social skills.
At multiple public hearings at the Statehouse earlier this year, parents begged lawmakers for help paying for the therapy that can cost more than $100 per hour. Some told of mortgaging their homes and possibly leaving the state to get the treatment.
The BCA and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, along with some other business groups, spoke against the bill.
Government insurance plans, such as Medicaid and All-Kids, also would have to supply the coverage, but the requirement wouldn't kick in until late 2018.
Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, didn’t get an invite to the BCA event because, he said today, he beat up on Blue Cross over the autism bill.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Henry said. “I actually like being blackballed. It shows that I’m doing something right.”
In February, Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, received the BCA Business Champion Award. He said he’s been going to the BCA event for more than 20 years, since he was a congressional staff member.
He didn’t get invited this year.
“The only thing happened (between February and now) is that autism bill,” he said.
He said he was told by BCA staff that “they felt like it would not be good for me to be at their events.”
Ward is running for re-election next year but said he’s not too worried about possibly losing BCA’s support.
“If I were to lose the election because I supported children having access to autism insurance, that is a beating I would take any day,” he said.
The Alabama Political Reporter first reported a small group of lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, weren’t invited to the event because of the autism bill. But the BCA denied that in a statement today.
“The implication that our guest list was developed solely on one issue is false, and anyone who writes that is promoting fake news,” BCA spokeswoman Nancy Hewston said. “One-hundred-and-thirty-three out of 137 lawmakers voted for this particular issue, and the vast majority of them will be attending this year’s conference. Let me be clear — no one was uninvited from this event. This year will mark the 30th year of this summer conference, and we are proud that this annual event has such widespread interest and appeal.”
Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said he and others simply were never invited. He said he wasn’t told why, but looking at the list it’s obvious.
“I don’t have any heartburn,” Brewbaker said. “It’s their event, so they can invite who they want to.”