Missouri Senate gives autism bill thumbs up

Thursday, February 4, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's Senate passed a bill for the second year in a row that would require insurance companies to cover autism spectrum disorder.

The bill faced extensive debate, but the Senate leadership decided to push back committee hearings in order to bring the bill to a vote Wednesday.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said autism should be treated like any other neurological disease. He drew on his own experiences with a grandfather who died from Alzheimer's disease, saying insurance companies paid thousands of dollars to treat the disease even though there is no cure. He said autism should be treated the same.

"I know many people have gotten up and called this (bill) a mandate; what I call it is a correction," Crowell said.

Opponents, like Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, argued that the mandate would increase premiums so that small businesses couldn't afford it and would have to drop insurance for their employees altogether.

"And I know that's a concern that you continually try to balance, you know, who's going to lose insurance as opposed to who's going to get coverage and no longer have to pay out of their pocket," Ridgeway said.

The bill passed with a waiver for small businesses that had their rates increase because of autism coverage by more than 2.5 percent over one year.

She said the bill would also cost the state money it doesn't have. The legislature estimated the original version of the bill would cost the General Revenue Fund almost $4 million for fiscal year 2011 and more than $7 million for fiscal year 2012.

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