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Autism Coverage Bill Is Signed Into Law

For families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, it’s been a long time coming. Governor Jay Nixon has signed into law a bill that requires insurance companies regulated by the state to provide coverage to children with autism. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore attended the bill-signing press conference in Springfield Thursday and has this report.

The press conference was packed with families and educators, as well as children with autism. Many parents wiped tears from their eyes as the governor said he knew that, until now, many of them have had to sacrifice mortgages and other necessities just to provide their children with autism therapy.

The new law requires insurance companies that are regulated by the state to cover up to $40,000 a year of Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA. Experts say that’s the most effective known treatment for children with autism.

“Because of this bill, Missouri law will now require insurance policies to cover life changing ABA therapies. Under the old law, most insurance policies simply refused to cover Applied Behavioral Analysis--exactly the type of therapy that these kids need,” Nixon said.

The law will apply to children with autism up to age 18.

One parent sharing the stage with Nixon was Crystal Hayes. Her six year old son, Caleb, has autism. Before his mother spoke, Caleb introduced himself to the press conference, and thanked the room for helping kids like him.

As a parent, Crystal testified to the sacrifices parents of children with autism often have to make.

"When Caleb was diagnosed with Autism, it was a choice for us. It was a choice of, ‘Do we do ABA and that’s it? Or do we do ABA and all of these other therapies that he needs?’ And you just, you can’t financially. And so now, it’s not going to be a choice. The financial burden is going to be taken away,” she said.

The bill only affects those insurance policies that are regulated by the state. According to Nixon’s administration, that’s about 30 percent of the insurance marketplace in Missouri.

State senator Gary Nodler touted the bill’s bipartisan history. But he also noted that there had been opposition to the bill in the statehouse. He said two of the reasons for that opposition to the bill were that it would place a financial burden on small businesses providing health insurance to their employees, and that health insurance premiums would go up.

“I think we have to acknowledge that that’s a fact: it will have an effect on insurance premiums, and I think we need to be honest about it. However, with the increased frequency of this disorder, if we don’t intervene in this way, the long-term costs to the state of Missouri and to families and to our society vastly exceed the impact of these insurance premium increases,” Nodler said.

According to the Autism Society of America, Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the nation, and the cost of lifelong care is reduced by two-thirds if a child gets an early diagnosis and treatment.Although the bill has been signed into law, state officials estimate it will not go into effect until January, since it will take a while to implement the new policy.

The governor signed several ceremonial copies of the autism coverage bill in Springfield. The first copy went to six-year-old Caleb Hayes.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.