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Mo. lawmakers considering autism legislation

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio

Jefferson City, Mo. – Lawmakers in Missouri have begun work on legislation that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Both House and Senate versions of the bill would mandate coverage of up to $72,000 a year for a therapy known as "applied behavioral analysis" treatment, or A.B.A., for patients age 21 and younger.

Steve Shad of St. Charles has an 8-year-old son with autism. He told a State Senate committee Tuesday that the therapy works, but that it's extremely expensive.

"Harry got very intensive therapy, eventually learned sign language, was able to talk, but then our finances ran out...we had to refinance our home three times...I had to rely on my in-laws and other friends (for financial help)," Shad said.

Insurance industry officials say the amount of coverage being proposed is too expensive, and hope to negotiate a smaller figure with lawmakers.

David Smith, an executive with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, says requiring $72,000 a year in coverage for patients 21 and under would hurt small businesses that provide group health coverage for their workers.

"If you look at the market today, larger groups (are) fairly stable; smaller groups, it's a nosedive...from the start of this century, every time there's an increase at all in premiums, you're seeing a drastic drop within that marketplace," Smith said.

But supporters say autism coverage is affordable, citing results in other states where insurance rates rose less than one percent.

The Missouri Senate Committee on Small Business, Insurance and Industry is expected to vote on the bill next week.