Last week at the school board meeting (2/18/2009), Member Victor Bernson went on a rant about a piece of legislation before the General Assembly requiring insurance companies to cover some autism spectrum disorders under existing Maryland insurance policies. The bill numbers are: HB273 in the House and SB394 in the Senate.
As part of the Board of Education’s duties, they decide on which pieces of legislation at the state level they will support/oppose. This happens at each Board meeting while the legislature is holding its 90-day session each winter. On this bill, the superintendent had recommended that the bill be supported, with a modification to cover other kinds of treatments.
First let me note that Mr. Bernson is the board member who trusts county schools enough to send his children… to private school.
I would also note that this BOE meeting was the first to be televised on the local public access channel, so every member on the panel took a moment to be outraged about something.
In any event, while discussing these bills, Bernson’s main argument against supporting the legislation centered on the premise that “governments have no business telling private insurance companies what they should and shouldn’t cover.” At some point in the discussion, Member Tricia Johnson jumped on the bandwagon, concurring with this argument.
I find this argument either willfully ignorant of the role of government, or blindly adhering to a kind of “no government is good government” philosophy. In fact, government has intervened in what kinds of things insurance companies are required to cover. It took acts of legislation to bring coverage for mammograms and AIDS treatment, among other things. In addition, government has long worked to regulate business through legislation in a variety of areas, so to say that there is no role for government in the regulation and oversight of private sector businesses is specious.
My second argument against this line of reasoning is that for the school board to go against these bills means that, by default, they are willing to have the county pick up the tab for the services for these students. Of course these school board members must be aware of IEPs and 404s where parents have the right to demand that the county provide social services (like occupational therapy) for their students. With autism diagnoses on the rise, board members are essentially arguing that the county school system should absorb these costs, rather than having private insurers take on this burden.
This school board has been reviewing, discussing and debating the budget at recent gatherings — looking for ways to cut costs. They are moving forward with the six-period middle school day, which we were initially told would require a 20 percent increase in faculty hires. And yet hiring has been frozen across the county. They’re talking about furloughs for central office staff. They are also trying to address a backlog of hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance for our aging school buildings. This legislation could provide a way to untether the county and state from costs associated with the services delivered to a segment of the student population that is growing.
This doesn’t even address the issue that families who rely on the school system to supply these services often encounter bureaucratic delays in getting their child the services they need. As you can imagine, a student who is on a waiting list for behavior interventions can be a disruptive influence in a classroom — affecting 20 other kids in the process.
It is a whole week later, and while I hope the bill will be favorably reported out of committee, I am still astonished at the lack of commitment and understanding of a sitting school board member to help overwhelmed families.