Former Major Leaguer adds voice to push for insurance coverage for autism

St. Louis – Supporters of legislation that would require insurance companies to cover treatment for autism spectrum disorders have launched a grassroots push to get the bill through the Missouri General Assembly next year.

Democratic Governor Jay Nixon has already said passing autism insurance legislation will be a priority of his. A bill cleared the Republican-controlled Senate easily lat year, but never got a vote in the state House, which is also under GOP control.

Supporters won't have to put much pressure on reluctant legislative colleagues, said state Senator Scott Rupp, a Republican from St. Charles who is leading the push.

"When you see the thousands of families that are going to come out to the rally and stand there and say this is for fairness, we want to be treated equal, that's the pressure," he said.

House Speaker Ron Richard created an interim committee to study a mandate over the summer, and a spokeswoman said an autism insurance mandate will be approved in some form in 2010. The insurance industry remains opposed to mandates, citing concerns that they increase costs and could force employers to drop coverage.

But state Senator Eric Schmitt of St. Louis County, another Republican, said studies not funded by the insurance industry show premiums go up less than 1 percent.

"The studies also show that the earlier you can intervene with these children, the better the outcomes, and that means less of a burden on the state long-term for making sure that these children are cared for," said Schmitt, whose 5-year-old son has autism.

The effort is getting a boost from the Darryl Strawberry Foundation, run by the former Major Leaguer who now lives in St. Louis. Strawberry's sister-in-law is a special education teacher at the Center for Autism Education in O'Fallon, Mo.