Missouri Senate approves child autism coverage bill

Thursday, February 4, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to legislation that would require insurance providers to cover treatments for autistic children.

The measure would require insurance companies to pay up to $55,000 for behavioral treatment until an autistic child reaches the age of 21.

Autism is a broad term used to describe a spectrum of neurological disorders that affect about 1 out of 110 children in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The advocacy group Autism Speaks said 15 states already have laws requiring coverage of medically necessary autism services such as behavioral therapies.

Coverage of autism treatment isn't currently required in Missouri.

The insurance industry says the legislation will increase insurance costs by around 3 percent. Sen. Scott Rupp, the bill sponsor, said studies of states that have required insurance companies to cover the treatment showed less than a 1 percent increase.

Small businesses could apply for a waiver if they can prove offering autism coverage increases the cost of their policy by 2.5 percent in one year.

Supporters of the bill say intensive, and expensive, therapy can make dramatic changes in how their children act. Rupp, R-Wentzville, said many families cannot afford the treatment.

Gov. Jay Nixon and legislative leaders have said the issue will be a priority this session.

A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but was never considered in the House. Two bills have been voted out of committee in the House and supporters said they are optimistic a bill will pass before the end of the year.

Some senators questioned if the state can afford the bill's $11 million cost considering the budget cuts being made.

But others, such as St. Louis Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt, equated the treatment to cancer or other treatments insurance companies already pay for and which can have a big effect.

Schmitt, whose 5-year-old son is autistic, said helping "the most vulnerable among us -- that is a legitimate government function."

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