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Paterson vetoes autism bill, citing budget woes

Gov. David A. Paterson yesterday vetoed a bill that would have expanded autism treatments paid for by health insurers and which had passed unanimously in the state Senate and Assembly.

Supporters of the bill lambasted Paterson, while a health insurance trade group said the move was wise.

Calling Paterson's decision "callous," Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) said "it is unconscionable to deny our most vulnerable population affordable treatment programs that will improve their lives and ease the financial burdens that are placed on their families."

Paterson said while he supports efforts to expand treatment of autism, the fiscal environment is tight and the Legislature had failed to budget money for the measure. The state already faces a deficit in excess of $8 billion for 2011-2012.

"I am extremely sympathetic to the very real struggles faced by the families of individuals with ADS," or Autism Spectrum Disorder, Paterson said in his veto message. But "I cannot sign a bill that would impose costs that the Legislature does not fund."

The bill would have mandated insurers to pay for screening, diagnosis and treatment of ASD, and would have extended coverage for a lifetime.

Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick) said many families "have taken on additional mortgages, depleted their savings and retirement funds, destroyed their credit, or even sacrificed the college funds of their other children just to get care."

Bob Wright, co-founder of the Autism Speaks advocacy group based in New York City, said, "Today is a sad day for tens of thousands of people with autism and their families."

But America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group representing companies that insure more than 200 million people, applauded the veto. Mandates such as the one Paterson rejected have "tended to decrease access to health care . . . and drive up the costs of health care, making it less likely employers can afford" to fund insurance plans, spokeswoman Susan Pisano said.

Some autism advocacy groups had also opposed the bill, arguing insurers would avoid paying for care. They support a rival bill.

Foley urged the Legislature to override the veto, but state Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said he thought it was likely a new bill would be introduced next year.

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