A proposed program to help those with autism spectrum disorder and their families unanimously passed the state Senate on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 2268 seeks to establish an autism spectrum disorder Centers of Achievement pilot program.
The bill requires the Department of Human Services to establish the pilot program in the next two years. Like Centers of Excellence in higher education, these centers would involve public-private partnerships.
Those interested in working with the state would submit an application with a plan to fund, develop and deliver skilled services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
The proposed regional centers would be in cities with populations of more than 10,000.
The original version of the bill required health insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorder. The bill was revamped due to concern that the Legislature would not pass it. [emphasis and link added]
Nick Gates of Dickinson, who pushed for the original bill, said the goal was to get every parent access to early and effective autism treatment for their children.
At least 23 states specifically require insurers to provide coverage for the treatment of autism, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Gates expects more states will pass similar laws and sees the issue returning to the North Dakota Legislature in the future.
“We’re going to eventually need to have insurance companies help pay for it,” he said. “It’s coming. It’s going to happen.”
The Plains Daily reported on the earlier version:
Autism Speaks joins North Dakota’s autism community in calling on the legislature to pass SB 2268 and join the growing number of states that have ended healthcare discrimination against children with autism.”
Sherris Richards is the Executive Director of North Dakota Autism Connection says that she is encouraged by SB 2268. “We are definitely taking an active role in supporting this legislation.”
Richards says that it is hard to come by hard statistics of how many North Dakotans are afflicted by autism. “The spectrum is so wide from very mild to severe and there are many cases where parents are seeing symptoms but have not received a diagnosis that it is difficult to give a specific number as to how many families are affected.”
Richards is hopeful that by covering autism disorders more specific statistics will become available through insurance tracking.
Right now North Dakota Autism Connection works to educate parents, doctors and educators about the myriad of autistic disorders “We provide support and networking through education and awareness activities.”
Richards also says that she hopes better coverage for families will lead to better services across the state.
“Currently there is only one person in the state that has their ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) certification, and they are on the eastern side of the state. We need more people that are educated in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.” [Ed. note: actually there are two people in the state with BACB certification: one in Valley City and one in Fargo.]
Moving forward Richards says that her organization will continue their efforts. “We will continue to spread education and spread hope for families that are affected.”