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Complaint filed over autism coverage analysis

/ Source: The Associated Press

The parents of an autistic child have filed a complaint against a Tulsa consultant who they allege prepared a bogus analysis of the cost of a proposed autism health insurance coverage mandate in Oklahoma.

The analysis by Thomas E. Cummins, a consulting actuary who has performed actuarial studies for pension legislation for the House and Senate for more than 20 years, was used to help defeat the mandate proposal in a House committee last month and has been cited in debates over autism mandates in other states, including Kansas, Wayne Rohde said Wednesday.

"His work is not independent," Rohde said. "There is a lot of bias to his work. I would love for our Legislature not to use him anymore."

Rohde and his wife, Robyne, have been at the forefront of efforts to pass legislation to require health insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism, a bioneurological disability that affects communication skills in young children who may also suffer from ailments such as allergies, asthma and epilepsy.

Autism mandates have been passed in about 20 other states, including Texas. But House Republican leaders oppose it and claim it will increase the cost of health insurance. A mandate plan known as Nick's Law, named for the Rohdes' autistic son, was defeated in a House committee on Feb. 3.

Cummins, who testified at the committee hearing, prepared a study for House leaders that said an autism mandate would increase health insurance rates by at least 7.8 percent and possibly as high as 19.8 percent. Other studies, including one by the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board, say the cost would be 1 percent or less.

The Rohdes, of Edmond, filed their complaint on Feb. 19 with the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline in Washington, D.C. Wayne Rohde said the board asked that the complaint be kept confidential but that he decided to make it public in hopes of reviving the autism mandate.

The complaint alleges that Cummins' representation of the likely rate impact of Nick's Law "may defraud children with autism in Oklahoma of an opportunity to obtain a fair hearing of their legislation."

The complaint alleges Cummins' analysis "wrongfully influenced the decisions of members of the Oklahoma House" and is being used by others to misrepresent the likely cost of the autism mandate.

Wayne Rohde demanded that Cummins retract his analysis and correct it.

"I'm hoping that he retracts it publicly," he said.

Reached at his Tulsa office, Cummins said he had not yet responded to the complaint and declined further comment.

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, expressed support for Cummins' report.

"We stand by our study, which was conducted by a professional actuary who has worked in the field for more than 35 years," Benge said.

Autism mandate legislation was passed by the Senate last year but was blocked in the House. Similar legislation was filed in the Senate again this year but was not heard.

Republican House leaders support legislation that would set standards and licensing procedures for health professionals to treat autism. That bill passed the House last month and is pending in the Senate.