SALT LAKE CITY — A compromise bill that would establish a two-year pilot program to help young children with autism disorders advanced Wednesday with a 67-3 endorsement by the Utah House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Sponsored by Sen. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, HB272 would help children ages 2 to 6 in a three-pronged program focused on early intervention services. It helps Utah insurance companies avoid a "mandate" of insurance coverage, but instead directs impacted children on Medicaid or the Public Employees Health Program or those with parents with no insurance to appropriate services. Part of the funding, Menlove stressed, will come from private insurance companies that have stepped up to help.
She also said non-lapsing funds from the state Medicaid program would go toward funding the $6 million price tag for help that is critical in the early, formative years of children and families struggling to cope with the disorder. That price tag is up for negotiation she added, but described herself as an "optimist."
"We are taking a large step today," with approval of the bill, said Menlove, urging her colleagues' support. "We are investing some money up front for our children."
Many of her Republican counterparts stepped in to praise the measure, saying it makes not only good humanitarian sense but financial sense as well.
"You can pinch pennies now or dollars later," said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan. "I applaud the good work in this bill."
Others were not so convinced, including Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, who said the standby adage is that no "temporary" government program ever remains that way.
"This will be a permanent program," and is unwise in light of the state and nation's economic health, he said.