Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nevada approves insurance coverage of autism

From The AP:

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada lawmakers gave final approval May 23 to help children with autism by requiring health insurers to cover screening and treatment of the disorder.

Legislators were told the measure would help eliminate the financial ruin that can befall families struggling to provide costly autism treatment to their children.

"Learning about the daily challenges that these families face in obtaining and financing necessary medical treatment was both enlightening and heartbreaking," stated Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, who sponsored the bill.

AB162 requires both public and private health insurance companies to screen and provide treatment for autism spectrum disorders up to a cap of $36,000 a year. The requirement goes into effect in 2011.

As the bill moved through the Legislature, public health insurers were dropped from the bill at one point because of concerns that the price tag would be too high. But after an amendment in the Senate, public insurers were added back into the bill.

"The therapy is very effective," Ohrenschall said. "When you look at the lifetime cost of taking care of someone who doesn't get treatment, the benefits far outweigh the costs."

Ohrenschall added that if children receive treatment in their "tender years," about 50 percent of children can go "completely off the spectrum," showing no signs of the disorder.

Ohrenschall said that autism affects 5,000 children in Nevada, affecting more children than AIDS, childhood cancer, and diabetes combined. He said about a dozen states have passed similar legislation.

The original version of AB162 had no age limits or dollar caps on coverage, but amendments to the bill set an age limit of 18 in most cases unless the child is still in high school.

"There is absolutely no one willing to help this segment of the population which in fact is growing," said Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas. "I think it's a huge step forward."