Kanawha County Delegate Mark Hunt was saying "thank you" a lot to his fellow lawmakers Saturday night.
For the past six years, Hunt, a Democrat, has been pushing legislation aimed at easing the burden on families with autistic children.
That's included proposing tax credits for autism treatments as well as mandating insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorder.
But in each of those years, the state Senate and House of Delegates were unable to reach agreement on the measures, drawing criticism from Hunt.
But in the waning hours of the legislative session Saturday, the House unanimously approved an amended a version of House Bill 2693, which requires the Public Employees Insurance Agency, Children's Health Insurance Program and most private insurers to cover autism treatment beginning July 1, 2011.
When asked how he felt after the vote, Hunt said, "Great.
"It's been a real struggle to get this passed - we went through hell and back."
Supporters lobbied hard for the bill all session, staging several events at the Capitol along the way.
Members of autism awareness groups cheered from the House gallery as the measure passed.
Rhode Island insurance companies would be required to cover therapies for the treatment of autism under a bill in the state's General Assembly.
The House Corporation Committee will hold hearings on the bill Tuesday evening.
Parents of children with autism have long complained to lawmakers that insurers refuse to pay for expensive treatments for the disorder. Rep. Peter Palumbo, a Cranston Democrat, is the lead sponsor of the legislation.
Similar bills have been introduced around the country. The cost of autism treatments, often called applied behavior analysis, can run into the tens of thousands of dollars per year. Insurers have told lawmakers that mandating coverage of the treatments could lead to increased costs for all policy holders.