Missouri's new law requires insurers to cover $40,000 a year of "applied behavioral analysis" for children through age 18, and the cap could rise with inflation every three years. Many parents credit the intensive therapy with producing dramatic improvements in their autistic children.
But the insurance mandate covers only about one-fourth of Missouri's population — mainly those receiving health insurance from small- to medium-sized employers. Large employers who insure themselves are federally regulated. And people with individual insurance policies will have an option — not a requirement — to buy autism coverage.
"Most of the phone calls that we get regarding this insurance are families trying to figure out whether or not they will be covered at all," said Sharon Moeller, the communications manager for Missouri Families for Effective Autism Treatment. "I think there's a great lack of understanding on who is actually being affected by this law."
The Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration has posted an extensive question-and-answer section on its website for consumers curious about the new autism law.
The autism bill, AB162, was approved by the 2009 Legislature and signed by Gov. Jim Gibbons. Its passage came after testimony from parents, medical experts and children with autism about the benefits of early intervention and treatment _ and the high costs that make it unaffordable for many families.
"Learning about the daily challenges that these families face in obtaining and financing necessary medical treatment was both enlightening and heartbreaking," the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, said after its passage.
At least 35 states have laws related to autism and insurance coverage.
Autism affects about 5,000 children in Nevada _ more than AIDS, childhood cancer and diabetes combined. With early treatment, about 50 percent of children exhibit no signs of the disorder.
"Intervention makes a big difference," said state Sen. Sheila Leslie. "Without treatment, it's almost like giving up on their potential."
The law 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, until the child is 18 unless still in high school.