Missouri Senate passes autism bill

Thursday, May 6, 2010 | 7:42 p.m. CDT; updated 8:51 a.m. CDT, Friday, May 7, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — For the second year in a row, the Missouri Senate has passed a bill that would require health insurance providers in the state to cover minors with autism spectrum disorders. And for the second year in a row, the Missouri House will be responsible for final approval of the measure. Last year, the bill stopped dead in its tracks before the session ended.

The bill passed the upper chamber Thursday 27-6, with all of the dissenting votes coming from Republicans. It now goes back to the House for a final vote with five days left in the legislative session.

A requirement for insurance to cover children with autism spectrum disorder has been proposed in the legislature for the past three sessions. This year, the House and the Senate have been at odds as to where the cap should be set on coverage.

In addition, lobbyists for the insurance industry have opposed the bill, arguing the costs of mandating insurance coverage could be passed on to small businesses and consumers.

When the bill approved by the House reached the Senate in February, the cap for coverage of behavioral therapy for autism spectrum disorders was set at $36,000 per year — half the amount of coverage proposed by bill sponsor Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Manchester.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, adopted the bill, and the Senate amended the bill to raise the cap for behavioral therapy. The version passed Thursday set the cap at $45,000.

Shortly after the passage of the bill, Gov. Jay Nixon, who said in his State of the State address that coverage of autism spectrum disorders was a health care issue that "demanded our immediate attention," released a statement praising the Senate's passage of the bill.

"This legislation will expand access to treatments and therapies that have been shown to make a lasting difference for children with autism, and it will ease the burden for families struggling to afford these vital services," the governor said. "I urge legislators from both parties to continue to work together to send this bill to my desk."

There will be two bills pertaining to autism spectrum coverage available for House leaders to take up in the session's waning days. The other bill was sponsored by Rupp and passed the Senate on March 18 with a cap $55,000, but that has cap was lowered to $36,000 after amendments from the House.

TouchPoint Autism CEO Ron Ekstrand, who has supported the legislation, said the bill passed from the Senate on Thursday "provides a better solution" for families with children suffering from autism spectrum disorder.   

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