Mo. General Assembly passes autism insurance bill

Jefferson City, Mo. – The Missouri House and Senate both gave final approval today to legislation mandating insurance coverage for autism therapy.

The bill requires health insurance companies to pay up to $40,000 per year for Applied Behavioral Analysis. It's a form of autism therapy that has a successful track, but can also cost tens of thousands of dollars.

State Senator Eric Schmitt (R, Glendale) has a son with autism.

"I've been fortunate to be able to pay out of pocket for a lot of the things that Stephen needs, but there's a lot of families that just aren't in that position," Schmitt said. "We know that early intervention is critical; half the kids that receive this therapy early on don't need a shadow in a public school setting."

Kids with autism age 18 and younger are eligible for coverage, and it would be adjusted for inflation every three years.

The bill also allows small businesses to seek exemption from providing coverage if their insurance premiums rise more than 2.5 percent a year. State Senator Chuck Purgason (R, Caulfield) was one the few lawmakers who voted against the bill.

"All the burden falls back on the small business owner to prove that this mandate caused his insurance premiums to go up, but that takes at least two years...and as insurance continues to rise, this will make the insurance rise even more, which will cause more and more small businesses to have to drop coverage," Purgason said.

Purgason is also seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

A spokesman for the Missouri Insurance Coalition says they're content with the autism bill.

It now goes to Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, who made autism coverage one of his top priorities for the 2010 session.