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Georgia House and Senate announce deal on autism bill
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ATLANTA (AP) — An autism insurance bill considered dead earlier this week got a new lease on life Thursday when two key legislators from the House and Senate announced a compromise plan they hope will pass before the session ends next week.

State Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, and Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, said in a joint news conference that they have agreed on a deal that will look a lot like a Senate measure that flew through the chamber in January.

Smith, chairman of the House Insurance Committee, told lawmakers Wednesday that requiring businesses to offer autism insurance was "bad policy" and would not receive a floor vote this session.

Bethel and Smith, who had been feuding publicly over autism insurance, said the language of Bethel's bill, SB1, which requires health insurers to cover autism treatments for children up to age 6, will be combed with House Bill 429, a measure dealing with end-of-life insurance coverage for terminal patients.

Under the deal, autism insurance would be capped at $30,000 a year, less than the $35,000 proposed in Bethel's bill.

The two announced that a 0.2 percent general sales tax would go to voters in 2016. Then, if approved, the age for eligibility to autism treatments would increase to 18.

"We have a serious problem and I think this is the best way for addressing this," Smith said.

Supporters of autism insurance say at least 40 states require the coverage.

The lawmakers said that a consolidated bill would be voted out of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee on Friday and put on the Senate's calendar for a Tuesday vote. Then if the Senate OKs the measure, the House would have to agree to the changes before it could go to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Autism coverage has been supported by Senate leadership for the past two sessions. Bills stalled in the House.

Bethel termed the deal "a big step, a positive step," achieved only after much work.

Smith said he didn't like the portion of SB 1 that called for coverage of only young children.

What Smith said pushed him to work on the package was a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that found autism "is an epidemic" and not limited to small numbers of children.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said in a statement that "kids across Georgia" have a brighter future.

"With diagnosis rates of one in 68, this disease impacts the lives of families across our state and access o scientifically based treatment will change their lives in a way we can't even imagine."