COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon made Columbia his first stop Thursday on a tour to outline his priorities for autism legislation.
Those priorities are:
- Health insurance carriers would provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism-spectrum disorders, a range of neurological disorders that can affect communication, behavior and interpersonal relationships.
- The coverage would include applied behavioral analysis therapy, possibly with a cap between $35,000 and $55,000 on yearly benefits for it.
- Coverage would have no limits on the number of visits to an autism services provider or for autism-related services.
- Carriers would not refuse to renew or otherwise restrict coverage based solely on autism diagnosis.
"We want to send a clear message that this isn't just about passing an autism bill," Nixon said during his stop at MU's Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. "It's about passing a bill that will do something.
"I wanted to clearly lay this out at the beginning of the debate," Nixon said.
Nixon was to continue his tour Thursday with stops in Kansas City and St. Louis.
The Missouri Senate passed a bill on autism insurance earlier this year, but the House did not vote on it. The Missouri General Assembly will likely take up autism coverage legislation when members meet again in January, Nixon said.
"The hurdle was the fact that Republicans were carrying water for insurance agencies, instead of listening to their constituents," said Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia.
Myles Hinkel, who has a son with autism, offered a firsthand account of straining to afford treatments. The 6-year-old boy, Blake, sat with his mother and brother at the event, frequently trying to communicate and at one point escaping his mother's grasp and touching the base of the podium from which the governor spoke.
"You can see how an experience like this could be overwhelming for him," Hinkel said later, gesturing to where his squirming son had been seated before his wife took the two boys out. "But what you haven't seen is how much therapy has helped him."
Hinkel said treatments for his son cost a minimum of $40,000 to $50,000 per year.
One argument by insurance agencies against legislation that would require them to cover autism is how much it would raise premiums. John Huff, director of the state Department of Insurance and Professional Registration, said that based on information from other states with autism coverage guarantees, premiums wouldn't rise more than 1 percent.