Politics & Government

Missouri's autism coverage bill awaits governor's signature

JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers sent to the governor Wednesday a bill requiring Missouri health insurers to cover therapies and treatments for autism.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has long supported the mandate and called its passage "a dramatic and positive step forward." If he signs the bill, it will go into effect Jan. 1.

The bill highlighted a hectic day for the General Assembly, which adjourns for the year on Friday. In addition to autism insurance, lawmakers passed a bill changing college scholarship awards and settled the details of a bill on political ethics.

Passage of the autism insurance bill is the culmination of years of legislative efforts and lengthy discussions over the last four months.

"For families like ours, the skies have opened," said Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, a St. Louis County Republican whose grandson was autistic and who has championed the legislation for years. "A lot of families aren't receiving this kind of treatment — they can't afford it. But now they're on the road to improving that child's life."

The bill requires state-regulated health insurers to cover autism spectrum disorders, a range of neurological conditions that affect communication and social interaction. Approximately 27 percent of the insurance market will be affected by the mandate, Scharnhorst said.

Debate centered on the extent of treatment that would be covered by the mandate and opt-out provisions for small businesses.

To read the complete article, visit www.kansascity.com.