June 14, 2010

Gov. Nixon signs bill to provide insurance coverage for autism therapies for Missouri children

VIDEO: Missouri families affected by autism speak out on the new law.
VIDEO: Insurance Director John M. Huff talks about the impact of the new law on Missouri families affected by autism.

ST. LOUIS - Standing with families, medical professionals, legislators and others, Gov. Jay Nixon on June 10 signed into law a requirement that health insurance companies provide coverage for the most effective known treatment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

House Bill 1311 ends the longstanding insurance company practice of denying coverage for medically necessary, evidence-based Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a therapy considered by experts to be a vital tool in creating better outcomes for children with autism or related disorders. ABA is expensive: For an individual child, the therapy can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars annually. Without insurance coverage, families have been forced to take drastic measures, such as selling a home, spending their savings, borrowing from family members or going deep into debt, to afford these services.

The legislation requires that insurance companies provide coverage of up to $40,000 a year, until age 18, for Applied Behavioral Analysis.

This new law will make Missouri a national leader in the diagnosis and treatment of autism, and it will lift a tremendous burden from thousands of families across our state, Gov. Nixon said. With the bill I'm signing today, parents of children with autism - who have faithfully paid their insurance premiums - will finally get the coverage they are entitled to. The law will ensure that ABA therapy is covered and that families will not get kicked off their insurance plans or otherwise limited in their insurance options because they have a child with autism.

The bill, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2011, includes the four essential elements Gov. Nixon outlined before the 2010 legislative session began. Under the law, health insurance companies:

  • Must cover the diagnosis and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders;
  • Must specifically cover Applied Behavioral Analysis;
  • May not limit the number of visits by a child for ABA therapy; and
  • May not refuse to renew or otherwise restrict coverage for a policyholder simply because a dependent is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The new law makes Missouri the 21st state to require insurance coverage of ABA therapy. Autism affects an estimated one in 110 children nationwide.

Gov. Nixon signed the bill during visits to centers for autism research and treatment in Joplin, Springfield and Columbia. Joined by Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP) Director John M. Huff, Gov. Nixon spoke alongside families and experts at St. John's Mercy Children's Hospital in St. Louis, the Burrell Center for Autism in Springfield and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Columbia.