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NC legislators at odds on insurance mandate stay

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

North Carolina lawmakers reached an impasse on disputed legislation surrounding autism insurance coverage and the federal health care overhaul before the first gavel fell Wednesday to open this year's session.

A General Assembly study committee examining the effects of the federal health care law on the state canceled its meeting after leaders again couldn't gather enough members to do business.

The panel also had tried twice to meet Tuesday but failed to get quorums each time. Most House members stayed away in protest of proposed legislation that would place an 18-month moratorium on new insurance mandates, according to legislators.

Some stayed away because they feared it would conflict with a bill passed by the House last year requiring health insurance providers to cover autism diagnosis and treatment. Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, has been a champion of the autism community.

"I think any time you have three committee meetings in a row that members don't show up that's probably an organized effort," said Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, a committee member.

Committee co-chairmen said the draft legislation was designed to address concerns by committee members in recent weeks about an unstable insurance market due to the federal health care overhaul.

"The problem that we're attempting to address is to essentially identify some predictability going forward in the insurance-related market - that's all it was," said Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus and a committee co-chairman.

Another co-chairman, Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash and one of a handful of House members to vote against the autism insurance mandate, said the committee's draft bill was changed to begin the moratorium next year - giving time for mandate supporters to pass their bill during the session. But "that wasn't good enough for some of them," Collins said.

Two autism-related groups seeking the mandate brought supporters, parents and their children to this week's meetings. The debate is further complicated because Tillis has recognized Autism Speaks while running for the U.S. Senate. He wore a lapel pin shaped liked a puzzle piece - a symbol of the group - in a campaign television ad.

Tillis, who wants the federal health care law repealed, said Wednesday at a news conference that mandate issues should be looked at on a case-by-case basis, depending on the service. "There's got to be a clear benefit to it" for North Carolina citizens. He said he expects a resolution fairly quickly.

Lorri Unumb, a vice president with Autism Speaks, said group members will remain vigilant on the issue throughout the session. Tillis, Unumb said, has "been extremely involved and pledged his support to the autism community a year ago and has lived up to that ever since."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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